The Red Badge of Courage
The Red Badge of Courage
Stephen Crane (1871-1900)
An Episode of the American Civil War
The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs
revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting. As the landscape
changed from brown to green, the army awakened, and began to tremble
with eagerness at the noise of rumors. It cast its eyes upon the
roads, which were growing from long troughs of liquid mud to proper
thoroughfares. A river, amber-tinted in the shadow of its banks,
purled at the army's feet; and at night, when the stream had become of
a sorrowful blackness, one could see across it the red, eyelike gleam
of hostile camp-fires set in the low brows of distant hills.
Once a certain tall soldier developed virtues and went resolutely to
wash a shirt. He came flying back from a brook waving his garment
bannerlike. He was swelled with a tale he had heard from a reliable
friend, who had heard it from a truthful cavalryman, who had heard it
from his trustworthy brother, one of the orderlies at division
headquarters. He adopted the important air of a herald in red and gold.
"We're goin' t' move t'morrah--sure," he said pompously to a group in
the company street. "We're goin' 'way up the river, cut across, an'
come around in behint 'em."
To his attentive audience he drew a loud and elaborate plan of a very
brilliant campaign. When he had finished, the blue-clothed men
scattered into small arguing groups between the rows of squat brown
huts. A negro teamster who had been dancing upon a cracker box with
the hilarious encouragement of twoscore soldiers was deserted. He sat
mournfully down. Smoke drifted lazily from a multitude of quaint
"It's a lie! that's all it is--a thunderin' lie!" said another private
loudly. His smooth face was flushed, and his hands were thrust sulkily
into his trouser's pockets. He took the matter as an affront to him.
"I don't believe the derned old army's ever going to move. We're set.
I've got ready to move eight times in the last two weeks, and we ain't
The tall soldier felt called upon to defend the truth of a rumor he
himself had introduced. He and the loud one came near to fighting over
A corporal began to swear before the assemblage. He had just put a
costly board floor in his house, he said. During the early spring he
had refrained from adding extensively to the comfort of his environment
because he had felt that the army might start on the march at any
moment. Of late, however, he had been impressed that they were in a
sort of eternal camp.
Many of the men engaged in a spirited debate. One outlined in a
peculiarly lucid manner all the plans of the commanding general. He
was opposed by men who advocated that there were other plans of
campaign. They clamored at each other, numbers making futile bids for
the popular attention. Meanwhile, the soldier who had fetched the
rumor bustled about with much importance. He was continually assailed
"What's up, Jim?"
"Th'army's goin' t' move."
"Ah, what yeh talkin' about? How yeh know it is?"
"Well, yeh kin b'lieve me er not, jest as yeh like. I don't care a
There was much food for thought in the manner in which he replied. He
came near to convincing them by disdaining to produce proofs. They
grew much excited over it.
There was a youthful private who listened with eager ears to the words
of the tall soldier and to the varied comments of his comrades. After
receiving a fill of discussions concerning marches and attacks, he went
to his hut and crawled through an intricate hole that served it as a
door. He wished to be alone with some new thoughts that had lately
come to him.
He lay down on a wide bunk that stretched across the end of the room.
In the other end, cracker boxes were made to serve as furniture. They
were grouped about the fireplace. A picture from an illustrated weekly
was upon the log walls, and three rifles were paralleled on pegs.
Equipments hung on handy projections, and some tin dishes lay upon a
small pile of firewood. A folded tent was serving as a roof. The
sunlight, without, beating upon it, made it glow a light yellow shade.
A small window shot an oblique square of whiter light upon the
cluttered floor. The smoke from the fire at times neglected the clay
chimney and wreathed into the room, and this flimsy chimney of clay and
sticks made endless threats to set ablaze the whole establishment.
The youth was in a little trance of astonishment. So they were at last
going to fight. On the morrow, perhaps, there would be a battle, and
he would be in it. For a time he was obliged to labor to make himself
believe. He could not accept with assurance an omen that he was about
to mingle in one of those great affairs of the earth.
He had, of course, dreamed of battles all his life--of vague and bloody
conflicts that had thrilled him with their sweep and fire. In visions
he had seen himself in many struggles. He had imagined peoples secure
in the shadow of his eagle-eyed prowess. But awake he had regarded
battles as crimson blotches on the pages of the past. He had put them
as things of the bygone with his thought-images of heavy crowns and
high castles. There was a portion of the world's history which he had
regarded as the time of wars, but it, he thought, had been long gone
over the horizon and had disappeared forever.
From his home his youthful eyes had looked upon the war in his own
country with distrust. It must be some sort of a play affair. He had
long despaired of witnessing a Greeklike struggle. Such would be no
more, he had said. Men were better, or more timid. Secular and
religious education had effaced the throat-grappling instinct, or else
firm finance held in check the passions.
He had burned several times to enlist. Tales of great movements shook
the land. They might not be distinctly Homeric, but there seemed to be
much glory in them. He had read of marches, sieges, conflicts, and he
had longed to see it all. His busy mind had drawn for him large
pictures extravagant in color, lurid with breathless deeds.
But his mother had discouraged him. She had affected to look with some
contempt upon the quality of his war ardor and patriotism. She could
calmly seat herself and with no apparent difficulty give him many
hundreds of reasons why he was of vastly more importance on the farm
than on the field of battle. She had had certain ways of expression
that told him that her statements on the subject came from a deep
conviction. Moreover, on her side, was his belief that her ethical
motive in the argument was impregnable.
At last, however, he had made firm rebellion against this yellow light
thrown upon the color of his ambitions. The newspapers, the gossip of
the village, his own picturings, had aroused him to an uncheckable
degree. They were in truth fighting finely down there. Almost every
day the newspaper printed accounts of a decisive victory.
One night, as he lay in bed, the winds had carried to him the
clangoring of the church bell as some enthusiast jerked the rope
frantically to tell the twisted news of a great battle. This voice of
the people rejoicing in the night had made him shiver in a prolonged
ecstasy of excitement. Later, he had gone down to his mother's room
and had spoken thus: "Ma, I'm going to enlist."
"Henry, don't you be a fool," his mother had replied. She had then
covered her face with the quilt. There was an end to the matter for
Nevertheless, the next morning he had gone to a town that was near his
mother's farm and had enlisted in a company that was forming there.
When he had returned home his mother was milking the brindle cow. Four
others stood waiting. "Ma, I've enlisted," he had said to her
diffidently. There was a short silence. "The Lord's will be done,
Henry," she had finally replied, and had then continued to milk the
When he had stood in the doorway with his soldier's clothes on his
back, and with the light of excitement and expectancy in his eyes
almost defeating the glow of regret for the home bonds, he had seen two
tears leaving their trails on his mother's scarred cheeks.
Still, she had disappointed him by saying nothing whatever about
returning with his shield or on it. He had privately primed himself
for a beautiful scene. He had prepared certain sentences which he
thought could be used with touching effect. But her words destroyed
his plans. She had doggedly peeled potatoes and addressed him as
follows: "You watch out, Henry, an' take good care of yerself in this
here fighting business--you watch, an' take good care of yerself.
Don't go a-thinkin' you can lick the hull rebel army at the start,
because yeh can't. Yer jest one little feller amongst a hull lot of
others, and yeh've got to keep quiet an' do what they tell yeh. I know
how you are, Henry.
"I've knet yeh eight pair of socks, Henry, and I've put in all yer best
shirts, because I want my boy to be jest as warm and comf'able as
anybody in the army. Whenever they get holes in 'em, I want yeh to
send 'em right-away back to me, so's I kin dern 'em.
"An' allus be careful an' choose yer comp'ny. There's lots of bad men
in the army, Henry. The army makes 'em wild, and they like nothing
better than the job of leading off a young feller like you, as ain't
never been away from home much and has allus had a mother, an'
a-learning 'em to drink and swear. Keep clear of them folks, Henry. I
don't want yeh to ever do anything, Henry, that yeh would be 'shamed to
let me know about. Jest think as if I was a-watchin' yeh. If yeh keep
that in yer mind allus, I guess yeh'll come out about right.
"Yeh must allus remember yer father, too, child, an' remember he never
drunk a drop of licker in his life, and seldom swore a cross oath.
"I don't know what else to tell yeh, Henry, excepting that yeh must
never do no shirking, child, on my account. If so be a time comes when
yeh have to be kilt or do a mean thing, why, Henry, don't think of
anything 'cept what's right, because there's many a woman has to bear
up 'ginst sech things these times, and the Lord 'll take keer of us all.
"Don't forgit about the socks and the shirts, child; and I've put a cup
of blackberry jam with yer bundle, because I know yeh like it above all
things. Good-by, Henry. Watch out, and be a good boy."
He had, of course, been impatient under the ordeal of this speech. It
had not been quite what he expected, and he had borne it with an air of
irritation. He departed feeling vague relief.
Still, when he had looked back from the gate, he had seen his mother
kneeling among the potato parings. Her brown face, upraised, was
stained with tears, and her spare form was quivering. He bowed his
head and went on, feeling suddenly ashamed of his purposes.
From his home he had gone to the seminary to bid adieu to many
schoolmates. They had thronged about him with wonder and admiration.
He had felt the gulf now between them and had swelled with calm pride.
He and some of his fellows who had donned blue were quite overwhelmed
with privileges for all of one afternoon, and it had been a very
delicious thing. They had strutted.
A certain light-haired girl had made vivacious fun at his martial
spirit, but there was another and darker girl whom he had gazed at
steadfastly, and he thought she grew demure and sad at sight of his
blue and brass. As he had walked down the path between the rows of
oaks, he had turned his head and detected her at a window watching his
departure. As he perceived her, she had immediately begun to stare up
through the high tree branches at the sky. He had seen a good deal of
flurry and haste in her movement as she changed her attitude. He often
thought of it.
On the way to Washington his spirit had soared. The regiment was fed
and caressed at station after station until the youth had believed that
he must be a hero. There was a lavish expenditure of bread and cold
meats, coffee, and pickles and cheese. As he basked in the smiles of
the girls and was patted and complimented by the old men, he had felt
growing within him the strength to do mighty deeds of arms.
After complicated journeyings with many pauses, there had come months
of monotonous life in a camp. He had had the belief that real war was
a series of death struggles with small time in between for sleep and
meals; but since his regiment had come to the field the army had done
little but sit still and try to keep warm.
He was brought then gradually back to his old ideas. Greeklike
struggles would be no more. Men were better, or more timid. Secular
and religious education had effaced the throat-grappling instinct, or
else firm finance held in check the passions.
He had grown to regard himself merely as a part of a vast blue
demonstration. His province was to look out, as far as he could, for
his personal comfort. For recreation he could twiddle his thumbs and
speculate on the thoughts which must agitate the minds of the generals.
Also, he was drilled and drilled and reviewed, and drilled and drilled
The only foes he had seen were some pickets along the river bank. They
were a sun-tanned, philosophical lot, who sometimes shot reflectively
at the blue pickets. When reproached for this afterward, they usually
expressed sorrow, and swore by their gods that the guns had exploded
without their permission. The youth, on guard duty one night,
conversed across the stream with one of them. He was a slightly ragged
man, who spat skillfully between his shoes and possessed a great fund
of bland and infantile assurance. The youth liked him personally.
"Yank," the other had informed him, "yer a right dum good feller." This
sentiment, floating to him upon the still air, had made him temporarily
Various veterans had told him tales. Some talked of gray, bewhiskered
hordes who were advancing with relentless curses and chewing tobacco
with unspeakable valor; tremendous bodies of fierce soldiery who were
sweeping along like the Huns. Others spoke of tattered and eternally
hungry men who fired despondent powders. "They'll charge through
hell's fire an' brimstone t' git a holt on a haversack, an' sech
stomachs ain't a'lastin' long," he was told. From the stories, the
youth imagined the red, live bones sticking out through slits in the
Still, he could not put a whole faith in veteran's tales, for recruits
were their prey. They talked much of smoke, fire, and blood, but he
could not tell how much might be lies. They persistently yelled "Fresh
fish!" at him, and were in no wise to be trusted.
However, he perceived now that it did not greatly matter what kind of
soldiers he was going to fight, so long as they fought, which fact no
one disputed. There was a more serious problem. He lay in his bunk
pondering upon it. He tried to mathematically prove to himself that he
would not run from a battle.
Previously he had never felt obliged to wrestle too seriously with this
question. In his life he had taken certain things for granted, never
challenging his belief in ultimate success, and bothering little about
means and roads. But here he was confronted with a thing of moment.
It had suddenly appeared to him that perhaps in a battle he might run.
He was forced to admit that as far as war was concerned he knew nothing
A sufficient time before he would have allowed the problem to kick its
heels at the outer portals of his mind, but now he felt compelled to
give serious attention to it.
A little panic-fear grew in his mind. As his imagination went forward
to a fight, he saw hideous possibilities. He contemplated the lurking
menaces of the future, and failed in an effort to see himself standing
stoutly in the midst of them. He recalled his visions of broken-bladed
glory, but in the shadow of the impending tumult he suspected them to
be impossible pictures.
He sprang from the bunk and began to pace nervously to and fro. "Good
Lord, what's th' matter with me?" he said aloud.
He felt that in this crisis his laws of life were useless. Whatever he
had learned of himself was here of no avail. He was an unknown
quantity. He saw that he would again be obliged to experiment as he
had in early youth. He must accumulate information of himself, and
meanwhile he resolved to remain close upon his guard lest those
qualities of which he knew nothing should everlastingly disgrace him.
"Good Lord!" he repeated in dismay.
After a time the tall soldier slid dexterously through the hole. The
loud private followed. They were wrangling.
"That's all right," said the tall soldier as he entered. He waved his
hand expressively. "You can believe me or not, jest as you like. All
you got to do is sit down and wait as quiet as you can. Then pretty
soon you'll find out I was right."
His comrade grunted stubbornly. For a moment he seemed to be searching
for a formidable reply. Finally he said: "Well, you don't know
everything in the world, do you?"
"Didn't say I knew everything in the world," retorted the other
sharply. He began to stow various articles snugly into his knapsack.
The youth, pausing in his nervous walk, looked down at the busy figure.
"Going to be a battle, sure, is there, Jim?" he asked.
"Of course there is," replied the tall soldier. "Of course there is.
You jest wait 'til to-morrow, and you'll see one of the biggest battles
ever was. You jest wait."
"Thunder!" said the youth.
"Oh, you'll see fighting this time, my boy, what'll be regular
out-and-out fighting," added the tall soldier, with the air of a man
who is about to exhibit a battle for the benefit of his friends.
"Huh!" said the loud one from a corner.
"Well," remarked the youth, "like as not this story'll turn out jest
like them others did."
"Not much it won't," replied the tall soldier, exasperated. "Not much
it won't. Didn't the cavalry all start this morning?" He glared about
him. No one denied his statement. "The cavalry started this morning,"
he continued. "They say there ain't hardly any cavalry left in camp.
They're going to Richmond, or some place, while we fight all the
Johnnies. It's some dodge like that. The regiment's got orders, too.
A feller what seen 'em go to headquarters told me a little while ago.
And they're raising blazes all over camp--anybody can see that."
"Shucks!" said the loud one.
The youth remained silent for a time. At last he spoke to the tall
"How do you think the reg'ment 'll do?"
"Oh, they'll fight all right, I guess, after they once get into it,"
said the other with cold judgment. He made a fine use of the third
person. "There's been heaps of fun poked at 'em because they're new,
of course, and all that; but they'll fight all right, I guess."
"Think any of the boys 'll run?" persisted the youth.
"Oh, there may be a few of 'em run, but there's them kind in every
regiment, 'specially when they first goes under fire," said the other
in a tolerant way. "Of course it might happen that the hull
kit-and-boodle might start and run, if some big fighting came
first-off, and then again they might stay and fight like fun. But you
can't bet on nothing. Of course they ain't never been under fire yet,
and it ain't likely they'll lick the hull rebel army all-to-oncet the
first time; but I think they'll fight better than some, if worse than
others. That's the way I figger. They call the reg'ment 'Fresh fish'
and everything; but the boys come of good stock, and most of 'em 'll
fight like sin after they oncet git shootin'," he added, with a mighty
emphasis on the last four words.
"Oh, you think you know--" began the loud soldier with scorn.
The other turned savagely upon him. They had a rapid altercation, in
which they fastened upon each other various strange epithets.
The youth at last interrupted them. "Did you ever think you might run
yourself, Jim?" he asked. On concluding the sentence he laughed as if
he had meant to aim a joke. The loud soldier also giggled.
The tall private waved his hand. "Well," said he profoundly, "I've
thought it might get too hot for Jim Conklin in some of them
scrimmages, and if a whole lot of boys started and run, why, I s'pose
I'd start and run. And if I once started to run, I'd run like the
devil, and no mistake. But if everybody was a-standing and a-fighting,
why, I'd stand and fight. Be jiminey, I would. I'll bet on it."
"Huh!" said the loud one.
The youth of this tale felt gratitude for these words of his comrade.
He had feared that all of the untried men possessed great and correct
confidence. He now was in a measure reassured.
The next morning the youth discovered that his tall comrade had been
the fast-flying messenger of a mistake. There was much scoffing at the
latter by those who had yesterday been firm adherents of his views, and
there was even a little sneering by men who had never believed the
rumor. The tall one fought with a man from Chatfield Corners and beat
The youth felt, however, that his problem was in no wise lifted from
him. There was, on the contrary, an irritating prolongation. The tale
had created in him a great concern for himself. Now, with the newborn
question in his mind, he was compelled to sink back into his old place
as part of a blue demonstration.
For days he made ceaseless calculations, but they were all wondrously
unsatisfactory. He found that he could establish nothing. He finally
concluded that the only way to prove himself was to go into the blaze,
and then figuratively to watch his legs to discover their merits and
faults. He reluctantly admitted that he could not sit still and with a
mental slate and pencil derive an answer. To gain it, he must have
blaze, blood, and danger, even as a chemist requires this, that, and
the other. So he fretted for an opportunity.
Meanwhile, he continually tried to measure himself by his comrades.
The tall soldier, for one, gave him some assurance. This man's serene
unconcern dealt him a measure of confidence, for he had known him since
childhood, and from his intimate knowledge he did not see how he could
be capable of anything that was beyond him, the youth. Still, he
thought that his comrade might be mistaken about himself. Or, on the
other hand, he might be a man heretofore doomed to peace and obscurity,
but, in reality, made to shine in war.
The youth would have liked to have discovered another who suspected
himself. A sympathetic comparison of mental notes would have been a
joy to him.
He occasionally tried to fathom a comrade with seductive sentences. He
looked about to find men in the proper mood. All attempts failed to
bring forth any statement which looked in any way like a confession to
those doubts which he privately acknowledged in himself. He was afraid
to make an open declaration of his concern, because he dreaded to place
some unscrupulous confidant upon the high plane of the unconfessed from
which elevation he could be derided.
In regard to his companions his mind wavered between two opinions,
according to his mood. Sometimes he inclined to believing them all
heroes. In fact, he usually admired in secret the superior development
of the higher qualities in others. He could conceive of men going very
insignificantly about the world bearing a load of courage unseen, and
although he had known many of his comrades through boyhood, he began to
fear that his judgment of them had been blind. Then, in other moments,
he flouted these theories, and assured him that his fellows were all
privately wondering and quaking.
His emotions made him feel strange in the presence of men who talked
excitedly of a prospective battle as of a drama they were about to
witness, with nothing but eagerness and curiosity apparent in their
faces. It was often that he suspected them to be liars.
He did not pass such thoughts without severe condemnation of himself.
He dinned reproaches at times. He was convicted by himself of many
shameful crimes against the gods of traditions.
In his great anxiety his heart was continually clamoring at what he
considered the intolerable slowness of the generals. They seemed
content to perch tranquilly on the river bank, and leave him bowed down
by the weight of a great problem. He wanted it settled forthwith. He
could not long bear such a load, he said. Sometimes his anger at the
commanders reached an acute stage, and he grumbled about the camp like
One morning, however, he found himself in the ranks of his prepared
regiment. The men were whispering speculations and recounting the old
rumors. In the gloom before the break of the day their uniforms glowed
a deep purple hue. From across the river the red eyes were still
peering. In the eastern sky there was a yellow patch like a rug laid
for the feet of the coming sun; and against it, black and patternlike,
loomed the gigantic figure of the colonel on a gigantic horse.
From off in the darkness came the trampling of feet. The youth could
occasionally see dark shadows that moved like monsters. The regiment
stood at rest for what seemed a long time. The youth grew impatient.
It was unendurable the way these affairs were managed. He wondered how
long they were to be kept waiting.
As he looked all about him and pondered upon the mystic gloom, he began
to believe that at any moment the ominous distance might be aflare, and
the rolling crashes of an engagement come to his ears. Staring once at
the red eyes across the river, he conceived them to be growing larger,
as the orbs of a row of dragons advancing. He turned toward the
colonel and saw him lift his gigantic arm and calmly stroke his
At last he heard from along the road at the foot of the hill the
clatter of a horse's galloping hoofs. It must be the coming of orders.
He bent forward, scarce breathing. The exciting clickety-click, as it
grew louder and louder, seemed to be beating upon his soul. Presently
a horseman with jangling equipment drew rein before the colonel of the
regiment. The two held a short, sharp-worded conversation. The men in
the foremost ranks craned their necks.
As the horseman wheeled his animal and galloped away he turned to shout
over his shoulder, "Don't forget that box of cigars!" The colonel
mumbled in reply. The youth wondered what a box of cigars had to do
A moment later the regiment went swinging off into the darkness. It
was now like one of those moving monsters wending with many feet. The
air was heavy, and cold with dew. A mass of wet grass, marched upon,
rustled like silk.
There was an occasional flash and glimmer of steel from the backs of
all these huge crawling reptiles. From the road came creakings and
grumblings as some surly guns were dragged away.
The men stumbled along still muttering speculations. There was a
subdued debate. Once a man fell down, and as he reached for his rifle
a comrade, unseeing, trod upon his hand. He of the injured fingers
swore bitterly, and aloud. A low, tittering laugh went among his
Presently they passed into a roadway and marched forward with easy
strides. A dark regiment moved before them, and from behind also came
the tinkle of equipments on the bodies of marching men.
The rushing yellow of the developing day went on behind their backs.
When the sunrays at last struck full and mellowingly upon the earth,
the youth saw that the landscape was streaked with two long, thin,
black columns which disappeared on the brow of a hill in front and
rearward vanished in a wood. They were like two serpents crawling from
the cavern of the night.
The river was not in view. The tall soldier burst into praises of what
he thought to be his powers of perception.
Some of the tall one's companions cried with emphasis that they, too,
had evolved the same thing, and they congratulated themselves upon it.
But there were others who said that the tall one's plan was not the
true one at all. They persisted with other theories. There was a
The youth took no part in them. As he walked along in careless line he
was engaged with his own eternal debate. He could not hinder himself
from dwelling upon it. He was despondent and sullen, and threw
shifting glances about him. He looked ahead, often expecting to hear
from the advance the rattle of firing.
But the long serpents crawled slowly from hill to hill without bluster
of smoke. A dun-colored cloud of dust floated away to the right. The
sky overhead was of a fairy blue.
The youth studied the faces of his companions, ever on the watch to
detect kindred emotions. He suffered disappointment. Some ardor of
the air which was causing the veteran commands to move with
glee--almost with song--had infected the new regiment. The men began
to speak of victory as of a thing they knew. Also, the tall soldier
received his vindication. They were certainly going to come around in
behind the enemy. They expressed commiseration for that part of the
army which had been left upon the river bank, felicitating themselves
upon being a part of a blasting host.
The youth, considering himself as separated from the others, was
saddened by the blithe and merry speeches that went from rank to rank.
The company wags all made their best endeavors. The regiment tramped
to the tune of laughter.
The blatant soldier often convulsed whole files by his biting sarcasms
aimed at the tall one.
And it was not long before all the men seemed to forget their mission.
Whole brigades grinned in unison, and regiments laughed.
A rather fat soldier attempted to pilfer a horse from a dooryard. He
planned to load his knapsack upon it. He was escaping with his prize
when a young girl rushed from the house and grabbed the animal's mane.
There followed a wrangle. The young girl, with pink cheeks and shining
eyes, stood like a dauntless statue.
The observant regiment, standing at rest in the roadway, whooped at
once, and entered whole-souled upon the side of the maiden. The men
became so engrossed in this affair that they entirely ceased to
remember their own large war. They jeered the piratical private, and
called attention to various defects in his personal appearance; and
they were wildly enthusiastic in support of the young girl.
To her, from some distance, came bold advice. "Hit him with a stick."
There were crows and catcalls showered upon him when he retreated
without the horse. The regiment rejoiced at his downfall. Loud and
vociferous congratulations were showered upon the maiden, who stood
panting and regarding the troops with defiance.
At nightfall the column broke into regimental pieces, and the fragments
went into the fields to camp. Tents sprang up like strange plants.
Camp fires, like red, peculiar blossoms, dotted the night.
The youth kept from intercourse with his companions as much as
circumstances would allow him. In the evening he wandered a few paces
into the gloom. From this little distance the many fires, with the
black forms of men passing to and fro before the crimson rays, made
weird and satanic effects.
He lay down in the grass. The blades pressed tenderly against his
cheek. The moon had been lighted and was hung in a treetop. The
liquid stillness of the night enveloping him made him feel vast pity
for himself. There was a caress in the soft winds; and the whole mood
of the darkness, he thought, was one of sympathy for himself in his
He wished, without reserve, that he was at home again making the
endless rounds from the house to the barn, from the barn to the fields,
from the fields to the barn, from the barn to the house. He remembered
he had so often cursed the brindle cow and her mates, and had sometimes
flung milking stools. But, from his present point of view, there was a
halo of happiness about each of their heads, and he would have
sacrificed all the brass buttons on the continent to have been enabled
to return to them. He told himself that he was not formed for a
soldier. And he mused seriously upon the radical differences between
himself and those men who were dodging implike around the fires.
As he mused thus he heard the rustle of grass, and, upon turning his
head, discovered the loud soldier. He called out, "Oh, Wilson!"
The latter approached and looked down. "Why, hello, Henry; is it you?
What are you doing here?"
"Oh, thinking," said the youth.
The other sat down and carefully lighted his pipe. "You're getting
blue my boy. You're looking thundering peek-ed. What the dickens is
wrong with you?"
"Oh, nothing," said the youth.
The loud soldier launched then into the subject of the anticipated
fight. "Oh, we've got 'em now!" As he spoke his boyish face was
wreathed in a gleeful smile, and his voice had an exultant ring.
"We've got 'em now. At last, by the eternal thunders, we'll lick 'em
"If the truth was known," he added, more soberly, "they've licked us
about every clip up to now; but this time--this time--we'll lick 'em
"I thought you was objecting to this march a little while ago," said
the youth coldly.
"Oh, it wasn't that," explained the other. "I don't mind marching, if
there's going to be fighting at the end of it. What I hate is this
getting moved here and moved there, with no good coming of it, as far
as I can see, excepting sore feet and damned short rations."
"Well, Jim Conklin says we'll get plenty of fighting this time."
"He's right for once, I guess, though I can't see how it come. This
time we're in for a big battle, and we've got the best end of it,
certain sure. Gee rod! how we will thump 'em!"
He arose and began to pace to and fro excitedly. The thrill of his
enthusiasm made him walk with an elastic step. He was sprightly,
vigorous, fiery in his belief in success. He looked into the future
with clear proud eye, and he swore with the air of an old soldier.
The youth watched him for a moment in silence. When he finally spoke
his voice was as bitter as dregs. "Oh, you're going to do great
things, I s'pose!"
The loud soldier blew a thoughtful cloud of smoke from his pipe. "Oh,
I don't know," he remarked with dignity; "I don't know. I s'pose I'll
do as well as the rest. I'm going to try like thunder." He evidently
complimented himself upon the modesty of this statement.
"How do you know you won't run when the time comes?" asked the youth.
"Run?" said the loud one; "run?--of course not!" He laughed.
"Well," continued the youth, "lots of good-a-'nough men have thought
they was going to do great things before the fight, but when the time
come they skedaddled."
"Oh, that's all true, I s'pose," replied the other; "but I'm not going
to skedaddle. The man that bets on my running will lose his money,
that's all." He nodded confidently.
"Oh, shucks!" said the youth. "You ain't the bravest man in the world,
"No, I ain't," exclaimed the loud soldier indignantly; "and I didn't
say I was the bravest man in the world, neither. I said I was going to
do my share of fighting--that's what I said. And I am, too. Who are
you, anyhow? You talk as if you thought you was Napoleon Bonaparte."
He glared at the youth for a moment, and then strode away.
The youth called in a savage voice after his comrade: "Well, you
needn't git mad about it!" But the other continued on his way and made
He felt alone in space when his injured comrade had disappeared. His
failure to discover any mite of resemblance in their viewpoints made
him more miserable than before. No one seemed to be wrestling with
such a terrific personal problem. He was a mental outcast.
He went slowly to his tent and stretched himself on a blanket by the
side of the snoring tall soldier. In the darkness he saw visions of a
thousand-tongued fear that would babble at his back and cause him to
flee, while others were going coolly about their country's business.
He admitted that he would not be able to cope with this monster. He
felt that every nerve in his body would be an ear to hear the voices,
while other men would remain stolid and deaf.
And as he sweated with the pain of these thoughts, he could hear low,
serene sentences. "I'll bid five." "Make it six." "Seven." "Seven
He stared at the red, shivering reflection of a fire on the white wall
of his tent until, exhausted and ill from the monotony of his
suffering, he fell asleep.
When another night came, the columns, changed to purple streaks, filed
across two pontoon bridges. A glaring fire wine-tinted the waters of
the river. Its rays, shining upon the moving masses of troops, brought
forth here and there sudden gleams of silver or gold. Upon the other
shore a dark and mysterious range of hills was curved against the sky.
The insect voices of the night sang solemnly.
After this crossing the youth assured himself that at any moment they
might be suddenly and fearfully assaulted from the caves of the
lowering woods. He kept his eyes watchfully upon the darkness.
But his regiment went unmolested to a camping place, and its soldiers
slept the brave sleep of wearied men. In the morning they were routed
out with early energy, and hustled along a narrow road that led deep
into the forest.
It was during this rapid march that the regiment lost many of the marks
of a new command.
The men had begun to count the miles upon their fingers, and they grew
tired. "Sore feet an' damned short rations, that's all," said the loud
soldier. There was perspiration and grumblings. After a time they
began to shed their knapsacks. Some tossed them unconcernedly down;
others hid them carefully, asserting their plans to return for them at
some convenient time. Men extricated themselves from thick shirts.
Presently few carried anything but their necessary clothing, blankets,
haversacks, canteens, and arms and ammunition. "You can now eat and
shoot," said the tall soldier to the youth. "That's all you want to
There was sudden change from the ponderous infantry of theory to the
light and speedy infantry of practice. The regiment, relieved of a
burden, received a new impetus. But there was much loss of valuable
knapsacks, and, on the whole, very good shirts.
But the regiment was not yet veteranlike in appearance. Veteran
regiments in the army were likely to be very small aggregations of men.
Once, when the command had first come to the field, some perambulating
veterans, noting the length of their column, had accosted them thus:
"Hey, fellers, what brigade is that?" And when the men had replied that
they formed a regiment and not a brigade, the older soldiers had
laughed, and said, "O Gawd!"
Also, there was too great a similarity in the hats. The hats of a
regiment should properly represent the history of headgear for a period
of years. And, moreover, there were no letters of faded gold speaking
from the colors. They were new and beautiful, and the color bearer
habitually oiled the pole.
Presently the army again sat down to think. The odor of the peaceful
pines was in the men's nostrils. The sound of monotonous axe blows
rang through the forest, and the insects, nodding upon their perches,
crooned like old women. The youth returned to his theory of a blue
One gray dawn, however, he was kicked in the leg by the tall soldier,
and then, before he was entirely awake, he found himself running down a
wood road in the midst of men who were panting from the first effects
of speed. His canteen banged rythmically upon his thigh, and his
haversack bobbed softly. His musket bounced a trifle from his shoulder
at each stride and made his cap feel uncertain upon his head.
He could hear the men whisper jerky sentences: "Say--what's all
this--about?" "What th' thunder--we--skedaddlin' this way fer?"
"Billie--keep off m' feet. Yeh run--like a cow." And the loud
soldier's shrill voice could be heard: "What th'devil they in sich a
The youth thought the damp fog of early morning moved from the rush of
a great body of troops. From the distance came a sudden spatter of
He was bewildered. As he ran with his comrades he strenuously tried to
think, but all he knew was that if he fell down those coming behind
would tread upon him. All his faculties seemed to be needed to guide
him over and past obstructions. He felt carried along by a mob.
The sun spread disclosing rays, and, one by one, regiments burst into
view like armed men just born of the earth. The youth perceived that
the time had come. He was about to be measured. For a moment he felt
in the face of his great trial like a babe, and the flesh over his
heart seemed very thin. He seized time to look about him calculatingly.
But he instantly saw that it would be impossible for him to escape from
the regiment. It inclosed him. And there were iron laws of tradition
and law on four sides. He was in a moving box.
As he perceived this fact it occurred to him that he had never wished
to come to the war. He had not enlisted of his free will. He had been
dragged by the merciless government. And now they were taking him out
to be slaughtered.
The regiment slid down a bank and wallowed across a little stream. The
mournful current moved slowly on, and from the water, shaded black,
some white bubble eyes looked at the men.
As they climbed the hill on the farther side artillery began to boom.
Here the youth forgot many things as he felt a sudden impulse of
curiosity. He scrambled up the bank with a speed that could not be
exceeded by a bloodthirsty man.
He expected a battle scene.
There were some little fields girted and squeezed by a forest. Spread
over the grass and in among the tree trunks, he could see knots and
waving lines of skirmishers who were running hither and thither and
firing at the landscape. A dark battle line lay upon a sunstruck
clearing that gleamed orange color. A flag fluttered.
Other regiments floundered up the bank. The brigade was formed in line
of battle, and after a pause started slowly through the woods in the
rear of the receding skirmishers, who were continually melting into the
scene to appear again farther on. They were always busy as bees,
deeply absorbed in their little combats.
The youth tried to observe everything. He did not use care to avoid
trees and branches, and his forgotten feet were constantly knocking
against stones or getting entangled in briers. He was aware that these
battalions with their commotions were woven red and startling into the
gentle fabric of softened greens and browns. It looked to be a wrong
place for a battle field.
The skirmishers in advance fascinated him. Their shots into thickets
and at distant and prominent trees spoke to him of tragedies--hidden,
Once the line encountered the body of a dead soldier. He lay upon his
back staring at the sky. He was dressed in an awkward suit of
yellowish brown. The youth could see that the soles of his shoes had
been worn to the thinness of writing paper, and from a great rent in
one the dead foot projected piteously. And it was as if fate had
betrayed the soldier. In death it exposed to his enemies that poverty
which in life he had perhaps concealed from his friends.
The ranks opened covertly to avoid the corpse. The invulnerable dead
man forced a way for himself. The youth looked keenly at the ashen
face. The wind raised the tawny beard. It moved as if a hand were
stroking it. He vaguely desired to walk around and around the body and
stare; the impulse of the living to try to read in dead eyes the answer
to the Question.
During the march the ardor which the youth had acquired when out of
view of the field rapidly faded to nothing. His curiosity was quite
easily satisfied. If an intense scene had caught him with its wild
swing as he came to the top of the bank, he might have gone
roaring on. This advance upon Nature was too calm. He had opportunity
to reflect. He had time in which to wonder about himself and to
attempt to probe his sensations.
Absurd ideas took hold upon him. He thought that he did not relish the
landscape. It threatened him. A coldness swept over his back, and it
is true that his trousers felt to him that they were no fit for his
legs at all.
A house standing placidly in distant fields had to him an ominous look.
The shadows of the woods were formidable. He was certain that in this
vista there lurked fierce-eyed hosts. The swift thought came to him
that the generals did not know what they were about. It was all a
trap. Suddenly those close forests would bristle with rifle barrels.
Ironlike brigades would appear in the rear. They were all going to be
sacrificed. The generals were stupids. The enemy would presently
swallow the whole command. He glared about him, expecting to see the
stealthy approach of his death.
He thought that he must break from the ranks and harangue his comrades.
They must not all be killed like pigs; and he was sure it would come to
pass unless they were informed of these dangers. The generals were
idiots to send them marching into a regular pen. There was but one
pair of eyes in the corps. He would step forth and make a speech.
Shrill and passionate words came to his lips.
The line, broken into moving fragments by the ground, went calmly on
through fields and woods. The youth looked at the men nearest him, and
saw, for the most part, expressions of deep interest, as if they were
investigating something that had fascinated them. One or two stepped
with overvaliant airs as if they were already plunged into war. Others
walked as upon thin ice. The greater part of the untested men appeared
quiet and absorbed. They were going to look at war, the red
animal--war, the blood-swollen god. And they were deeply engrossed in
As he looked the youth gripped his outcry at his throat. He saw that
even if the men were tottering with fear they would laugh at his
warning. They would jeer him, and, if practicable, pelt him with
missiles. Admitting that he might be wrong, a frenzied declamation of
the kind would turn him into a worm.
He assumed, then, the demeanor of one who knows that he is doomed alone
to unwritten responsibilities. He lagged, with tragic glances at the
He was surprised presently by the young lieutenant of his company, who
began heartily to beat him with a sword, calling out in a loud and
insolent voice: "Come, young man, get up into ranks there. No
skulking 'll do here." He mended his pace with suitable haste. And he
hated the lieutenant, who had no appreciation of fine minds. He was a
After a time the brigade was halted in the cathedral light of a forest.
The busy skirmishers were still popping. Through the aisles of the
wood could be seen the floating smoke from their rifles. Sometimes it
went up in little balls, white and compact.
During this halt many men in the regiment began erecting tiny hills in
front of them. They used stones sticks, earth, and anything they
thought might turn a bullet. Some built comparatively large ones,
while others seems content with little ones.
This procedure caused a discussion among the men. Some wished to fight
like duelists, believing it to be correct to stand erect and be, from
their feet to their foreheads, a mark. They said they scorned the
devices of the cautious. But the others scoffed in reply, and pointed
to the veterans on the flanks who were digging at the ground like
terriers. In a short time there was quite a barricade along the
regimental fronts. Directly, however, they were ordered to withdraw
from that place.
This astounded the youth. He forgot his stewing over the advance
movement. "Well, then, what did they march us out here for?" he
demanded of the tall soldier. The latter with calm faith began a heavy
explanation, although he had been compelled to leave a little
protection of stones and dirt to which he had devoted much care and
When the regiment was aligned in another position each man's regard for
his safety caused another line of small intrenchments. They ate their
noon meal behind a third one. They were moved from this one also.
They were marched from place to place with apparent aimlessness.
The youth had been taught that a man became another thing in battle.
He saw his salvation in such a change. Hence this waiting was an
ordeal to him. He was in a fever of impatience. He considered that
there was denoted a lack of purpose on the part of the generals. He
began to complain to the tall soldier. "I can't stand this much
longer," he cried. "I don't see what good it does to make us wear out
our legs for nothin'." He wished to return to camp, knowing that this
affair was a blue demonstration; or else to go into a battle and
discover that he had been a fool in his doubts, and was, in truth, a
man of traditional courage. The strain of present circumstances he
felt to be intolerable.
The philosophical tall soldier measured a sandwich of cracker and pork
and swallowed it in a nonchalant manner. "Oh, I suppose we must go
reconnoitering around the country jest to keep 'em from getting too
close, or to develop 'em, or something."
"Huh!" said the loud soldier.
"Well," cried the youth, still fidgeting, "I'd rather do anything 'most
than go tramping 'round the country all day doing no good to nobody and
jest tiring ourselves out."
"So would I," said the loud soldier. "It ain't right. I tell you if
anybody with any sense was a-runnin' this army it--"
"Oh, shut up!" roared the tall private. "You little fool. You little
damn' cuss. You ain't had that there coat and them pants on for six
months, and yet you talk as if--"
"Well, I wanta do some fighting anyway," interrupted the other. "I
didn't come here to walk. I could 'ave walked to home--'round an'
'round the barn, if I jest wanted to walk."
The tall one, red-faced, swallowed another sandwich as if taking poison
But gradually, as he chewed, his face became again quiet and contented.
He could not rage in fierce argument in the presence of such
sandwiches. During his meals he always wore an air of blissful
contemplation of the food he had swallowed. His spirit seemed then to
be communing with the viands.
He accepted new environment and circumstance with great coolness,
eating from his haversack at every opportunity. On the march he went
along with the stride of a hunter, objecting to neither gait nor
distance. And he had not raised his voice when he had been ordered
away from three little protective piles of earth and stone, each of
which had been an engineering feat worthy of being made sacred to the
name of his grandmother.
In the afternoon, the regiment went out over the same ground it had
taken in the morning. The landscape then ceased to threaten the youth.
He had been close to it and become familiar with it.
When, however, they began to pass into a new region, his old fears of
stupidity and incompetence reassailed him, but this time he doggedly
let them babble. He was occupied with his problem, and in his
desperation he concluded that the stupidity did not greatly matter.
Once he thought he had concluded that it would be better to get killed
directly and end his troubles. Regarding death thus out of the corner
of his eye, he conceived it to be nothing but rest, and he was filled
with a momentary astonishment that he should have made an extraordinary
commotion over the mere matter of getting killed. He would die; he
would go to some place where he would be understood. It was useless to
expect appreciation of his profound and fine sense from such men as the
lieutenant. He must look to the grave for comprehension.
The skirmish fire increased to a long clattering sound. With it was
mingled far-away cheering. A battery spoke.
Directly the youth could see the skirmishers running. They were
pursued by the sound of musketry fire. After a time the hot, dangerous
flashes of the rifles were visible. Smoke clouds went slowly and
insolently across the fields like observant phantoms. The din became
crescendo, like the roar of an oncoming train.
A brigade ahead of them and on the right went into action with a
rending roar. It was as if it had exploded. And thereafter it lay
stretched in the distance behind a long gray wall, that one was obliged
to look twice at to make sure that it was smoke.
The youth, forgetting his neat plan of getting killed, gazed spell
bound. His eyes grew wide and busy with the action of the scene. His
mouth was a little ways open.
Of a sudden he felt a heavy and sad hand laid upon his shoulder.
Awakening from his trance of observation he turned and beheld the loud
"It's my first and last battle, old boy," said the latter, with intense
gloom. He was quite pale and his girlish lip was trembling.
"Eh?" murmured the youth in great astonishment.
"It's my first and last battle, old boy," continued the loud soldier.
"Something tells me--"
"I'm a gone coon this first time and--and I w-want you to take these
here things--to--my--folks." He ended in a quavering sob of pity for
himself. He handed the youth a little packet done up in a yellow
"Why, what the devil--" began the youth again.
But the other gave him a glance as from the depths of a tomb, and
raised his limp hand in a prophetic manner and turned away.
The brigade was halted in the fringe of a grove. The men crouched
among the trees and pointed their restless guns out at the fields.
They tried to look beyond the smoke.
Out of this haze they could see running men. Some shouted information
and gestured as the hurried.
The men of the new regiment watched and listened eagerly, while their
tongues ran on in gossip of the battle. They mouthed rumors that had
flown like birds out of the unknown.
"They say Perry has been driven in with big loss."
"Yes, Carrott went t' th' hospital. He said he was sick. That smart
lieutenant is commanding 'G' Company. Th' boys say they won't be under
Carrott no more if they all have t' desert. They allus knew he was a--"
"Hannises' batt'ry is took."
"It ain't either. I saw Hannises' batt'ry off on th' left not more'n
fifteen minutes ago."
"Th' general, he ses he is goin' t' take th' hull command of th' 304th
when we go inteh action, an' then he ses we'll do sech fightin' as
never another one reg'ment done."
"They say we're catchin' it over on th' left. They say th' enemy driv'
our line inteh a devil of a swamp an' took Hannises' batt'ry."
"No sech thing. Hannises' batt'ry was 'long here 'bout a minute ago."
"That young Hasbrouck, he makes a good off'cer. He ain't afraid 'a
"I met one of th' 148th Maine boys an' he ses his brigade fit th' hull
rebel army fer four hours over on th' turnpike road an' killed about
five thousand of 'em. He ses one more sech fight as that an' th' war
'll be over."
"Bill wasn't scared either. No, sir! It wasn't that. Bill ain't
a-gittin' scared easy. He was jest mad, that's what he was. When that
feller trod on his hand, he up an' sed that he was willin' t' give his
hand t' his country, but he be dumbed if he was goin' t' have every
dumb bushwhacker in th' kentry walkin' 'round on it. So he went t' th'
hospital disregardless of th' fight. Three fingers was crunched. Th'
dern doctor wanted t' amputate 'm, an' Bill, he raised a heluva row, I
hear. He's a funny feller."
The din in front swelled to a tremendous chorus. The youth and his
fellows were frozen to silence. They could see a flag that tossed in
the smoke angrily. Near it were the blurred and agitated forms of
troops. There came a turbulent stream of men across the fields. A
battery changing position at a frantic gallop scattered the stragglers
right and left.
A shell screaming like a storm banshee went over the huddled heads of
the reserves. It landed in the grove, and exploding redly flung the
brown earth. There was a little shower of pine needles.
Bullets began to whistle among the branches and nip at the trees.
Twigs and leaves came sailing down. It was as if a thousand axes, wee
and invisible, were being wielded. Many of the men were constantly
dodging and ducking their heads.
The lieutenant of the youth's company was shot in the hand. He began
to swear so wondrously that a nervous laugh went along the regimental
line. The officer's profanity sounded conventional. It relieved the
tightened senses of the new men. It was as if he had hit his fingers
with a tack hammer at home.
He held the wounded member carefully away from his side so that the
blood would not drip upon his trousers.
The captain of the company, tucking his sword under his arm, produced a
handkerchief and began to bind with it the lieutenant's wound. And
they disputed as to how the binding should be done.
The battle flag in the distance jerked about madly. It seemed to be
struggling to free itself from an agony. The billowing smoke was
filled with horizontal flashes.
Men rushing swiftly emerged from it. They grew in numbers until it was
seen that the whole command was fleeing. The flag suddenly sank down
as if dying. Its motion as it fell was a gesture of despair.
Wild yells came from behind the walls of smoke. A sketch in gray and
red dissolved into a moblike body of men who galloped like wild horses.
The veteran regiments on the right and left of the 304th immediately
began to jeer. With the passionate song of the bullets and the banshee
shrieks of shells were mingled loud catcalls and bits of facetious
advice concerning places of safety.
But the new regiment was breathless with horror. "Gawd! Saunders's
got crushed!" whispered the man at the youth's elbow. They shrank back
and crouched as if compelled to await a flood.
The youth shot a swift glance along the blue ranks of the regiment.
The profiles were motionless, carven; and afterward he remembered that
the color sergeant was standing with his legs apart, as if he expected
to be pushed to the ground.
The following throng went whirling around the flank. Here and there
were officers carried along on the stream like exasperated chips. They
were striking about them with their swords and with their left fists,
punching every head they could reach. They cursed like highwaymen.
A mounted officer displayed the furious anger of a spoiled child. He
raged with his head, his arms, and his legs.
Another, the commander of the brigade, was galloping about bawling.
His hat was gone and his clothes were awry. He resembled a man who has
come from bed to go to a fire. The hoofs of his horse often threatened
the heads of the running men, but they scampered with singular fortune.
In this rush they were apparently all deaf and blind. They heeded not
the largest and longest of the oaths that were thrown at them from all
Frequently over this tumult could be heard the grim jokes of the
critical veterans; but the retreating men apparently were not even
conscious of the presence of an audience.
The battle reflection that shone for an instant in the faces on the mad
current made the youth feel that forceful hands from heaven would not
have been able to have held him in place if he could have got
intelligent control of his legs.
There was an appalling imprint upon these faces. The struggle in the
smoke had pictured an exaggeration of itself on the bleached cheeks and
in the eyes wild with one desire.
The sight of this stampede exerted a floodlike force that seemed able
to drag sticks and stones and men from the ground. They of the
reserves had to hold on. They grew pale and firm, and red and quaking.
The youth achieved one little thought in the midst of this chaos. The
composite monster which had caused the other troops to flee had not
then appeared. He resolved to get a view of it, and then, he thought
he might very likely run better than the best of them.
There were moments of waiting. The youth thought of the village street
at home before the arrival of the circus parade on a day in the spring.
He remembered how he had stood, a small, thrillful boy, prepared to
follow the dingy lady upon the white horse, or the band in its faded
chariot. He saw the yellow road, the lines of expectant people, and
the sober houses. He particularly remembered an old fellow who used to
sit upon a cracker box in front of the store and feign to despise such
exhibitions. A thousand details of color and form surged in his mind.
The old fellow upon the cracker box appeared in middle prominence.
Some one cried, "Here they come!"
There was rustling and muttering among the men. They displayed a
feverish desire to have every possible cartridge ready to their hands.
The boxes were pulled around into various positions, and adjusted with
great care. It was as if seven hundred new bonnets were being tried on.
The tall soldier, having prepared his rifle, produced a red
handkerchief of some kind. He was engaged in knotting it about his
throat with exquisite attention to its position, when the cry was
repeated up and down the line in a muffled roar of sound.
"Here they come! Here they come!" Gun locks clicked.
Across the smoke-infested fields came a brown swarm of running men who
were giving shrill yells. They came on, stooping and swinging their
rifles at all angles. A flag, tilted forward, sped near the front.
As he caught sight of them the youth was momentarily startled by a
thought that perhaps his gun was not loaded. He stood trying to rally
his faltering intellect so that he might recollect the moment when he
had loaded, but he could not.
A hatless general pulled his dripping horse to a stand near the colonel
of the 304th. He shook his fist in the other's face. "You've got to
hold 'em back!" he shouted, savagely; "you've got to hold 'em back!"
In his agitation the colonel began to stammer. "A-all r-right,
General, all right, by Gawd! We-we 'll do our--we-we 'll d-d-do-do our
best, General." The general made a passionate gesture and galloped
away. The colonel, perchance to relieve his feelings, began to scold
like a wet parrot. The youth, turning swiftly to make sure that the
rear was unmolested, saw the commander regarding his men in a highly
resentful manner, as if he regretted above everything his association
The man at the youth's elbow was mumbling, as if to himself: "Oh, we
're in for it now! oh, we 're in for it now!"
The captain of the company had been pacing excitedly to and fro in the
rear. He coaxed in schoolmistress fashion, as to a congregation of
boys with primers. His talk was an endless repetition. "Reserve your
fire, boys--don't shoot till I tell you--save your fire--wait till they
get close up--don't be damned fools--"
Perspiration streamed down the youth's face, which was soiled like that
of a weeping urchin. He frequently, with a nervous movement, wiped his
eyes with his coat sleeve. His mouth was still a little ways open.
He got the one glance at the foe-swarming field in front of him, and
instantly ceased to debate the question of his piece being loaded.
Before he was ready to begin--before he had announced to himself that
he was about to fight--he threw the obedient well-balanced rifle into
position and fired a first wild shot. Directly he was working at his
weapon like an automatic affair.
He suddenly lost concern for himself, and forgot to look at a menacing
fate. He became not a man but a member. He felt that something of
which he was a part--a regiment, an army, a cause, or a country--was in
crisis. He was welded into a common personality which was dominated by
a single desire. For some moments he could not flee no more than a
little finger can commit a revolution from a hand.
If he had thought the regiment was about to be annihilated perhaps he
could have amputated himself from it. But its noise gave him
assurance. The regiment was like a firework that, once ignited,
proceeds superior to circumstances until its blazing vitality fades.
It wheezed and banged with a mighty power. He pictured the ground
before it as strewn with the discomfited.
There was a consciousness always of the presence of his comrades about
him. He felt the subtle battle brotherhood more potent even than the
cause for which they were fighting. It was a mysterious fraternity
born of the smoke and danger of death.
He was at a task. He was like a carpenter who has made many boxes,
making still another box, only there was furious haste in his
movements. He, in his thoughts, was careering off in other places,
even as the carpenter who as he works whistles and thinks of his friend
or his enemy, his home or a saloon. And these jolted dreams were never
perfect to him afterward, but remained a mass of blurred shapes.
Presently he began to feel the effects of the war atmosphere--a
blistering sweat, a sensation that his eyeballs were about to crack
like hot stones. A burning roar filled his ears.
Following this came a red rage. He developed the acute exasperation of
a pestered animal, a well-meaning cow worried by dogs. He had a mad
feeling against his rifle, which could only be used against one life at
a time. He wished to rush forward and strangle with his fingers. He
craved a power that would enable him to make a world-sweeping gesture
and brush all back. His impotency appeared to him, and made his rage
into that of a driven beast.
Buried in the smoke of many rifles his anger was directed not so much
against the men whom he knew were rushing toward him as against the
swirling battle phantoms which were choking him, stuffing their smoke
robes down his parched throat. He fought frantically for respite for
his senses, for air, as a babe being smothered attacks the deadly
There was a blare of heated rage mingled with a certain expression of
intentness on all faces. Many of the men were making low-toned noises
with their mouths, and these subdued cheers, snarls, imprecations,
prayers, made a wild, barbaric song that went as an undercurrent of
sound, strange and chantlike with the resounding chords of the war
march. The man at the youth's elbow was babbling. In it there was
something soft and tender like the monologue of a babe. The tall
soldier was swearing in a loud voice. From his lips came a black
procession of curious oaths. Of a sudden another broke out in a
querulous way like a man who has mislaid his hat. "Well, why don't they
support us? Why don't they send supports? Do they think--"
The youth in his battle sleep heard this as one who dozes hears.
There was a singular absence of heroic poses. The men bending and
surging in their haste and rage were in every impossible attitude. The
steel ramrods clanked and clanged with incessant din as the men pounded
them furiously into the hot rifle barrels. The flaps of the cartridge
boxes were all unfastened, and bobbed idiotically with each movement.
The rifles, once loaded, were jerked to the shoulder and fired without
apparent aim into the smoke or at one of the blurred and shifting forms
which upon the field before the regiment had been growing larger and
larger like puppets under a magician's hand.
The officers, at their intervals, rearward, neglected to stand in
picturesque attitudes. They were bobbing to and fro roaring directions
and encouragements. The dimensions of their howls were extraordinary.
They expended their lungs with prodigal wills. And often they nearly
stood upon their heads in their anxiety to observe the enemy on the
other side of the tumbling smoke.
The lieutenant of the youth's company had encountered a soldier who had
fled screaming at the first volley of his comrades. Behind the lines
these two were acting a little isolated scene. The man was blubbering
and staring with sheeplike eyes at the lieutenant, who had seized him
by the collar and was pommeling him. He drove him back into the ranks
with many blows. The soldier went mechanically, dully, with his
animal-like eyes upon the officer. Perhaps there was to him a divinity
expressed in the voice of the other--stern, hard, with no reflection of
fear in it. He tried to reload his gun, but his shaking hands
prevented. The lieutenant was obliged to assist him.
The men dropped here and there like bundles. The captain of the
youth's company had been killed in an early part of the action. His
body lay stretched out in the position of a tired man resting, but upon
his face there was an astonished and sorrowful look, as if he thought
some friend had done him an ill turn. The babbling man was grazed by a
shot that made the blood stream widely down his face. He clapped both
hands to his head. "Oh!" he said, and ran. Another grunted suddenly as
if he had been struck by a club in the stomach. He sat down and gazed
ruefully. In his eyes there was mute, indefinite reproach. Farther up
the line a man, standing behind a tree, had had his knee joint
splintered by a ball. Immediately he had dropped his rifle and gripped
the tree with both arms. And there he remained, clinging desperately
and crying for assistance that he might withdraw his hold upon the tree.
At last an exultant yell went along the quivering line. The firing
dwindled from an uproar to a last vindictive popping. As the smoke
slowly eddied away, the youth saw that the charge had been repulsed.
The enemy were scattered into reluctant groups. He saw a man climb to
the top of the fence, straddle the rail, and fire a parting shot. The
waves had receded, leaving bits of dark "debris" upon the ground.
Some in the regiment began to whoop frenziedly. Many were silent.
Apparently they were trying to contemplate themselves.
After the fever had left his veins, the youth thought that at last he
was going to suffocate. He became aware of the foul atmosphere in
which he had been struggling. He was grimy and dripping like a laborer
in a foundry. He grasped his canteen and took a long swallow of the
A sentence with variations went up and down the line. "Well, we 've
helt 'em back. We 've helt 'em back; derned if we haven't." The men
said it blissfully, leering at each other with dirty smiles.
The youth turned to look behind him and off to the right and off to the
left. He experienced the joy of a man who at last finds leisure in
which to look about him.
Under foot there were a few ghastly forms motionless. They lay twisted
in fantastic contortions. Arms were bent and heads were turned in
incredible ways. It seemed that the dead men must have fallen from
some great height to get into such positions. They looked to be dumped
out upon the ground from the sky.
From a position in the rear of the grove a battery was throwing shells
over it. The flash of the guns startled the youth at first. He
thought they were aimed directly at him. Through the trees he watched
the black figures of the gunners as they worked swiftly and intently.
Their labor seemed a complicated thing. He wondered how they could
remember its formula in the midst of confusion.
The guns squatted in a row like savage chiefs. They argued with abrupt
violence. It was a grim pow-wow. Their busy servants ran hither and
A small procession of wounded men were going drearily toward the rear.
It was a flow of blood from the torn body of the brigade.
To the right and to the left were the dark lines of other troops. Far
in front he thought he could see lighter masses protruding in points
from the forest. They were suggestive of unnumbered thousands.
Once he saw a tiny battery go dashing along the line of the horizon.
The tiny riders were beating the tiny horses.
From a sloping hill came the sound of cheerings and clashes. Smoke
welled slowly through the leaves.
Batteries were speaking with thunderous oratorical effort. Here and
there were flags, the red in the stripes dominating. They splashed
bits of warm color upon the dark lines of troops.
The youth felt the old thrill at the sight of the emblems. They were
like beautiful birds strangely undaunted in a storm.
As he listened to the din from the hillside, to a deep pulsating
thunder that came from afar to the left, and to the lesser clamors
which came from many directions, it occurred to him that they were
fighting, too, over there, and over there, and over there. Heretofore
he had supposed that all the battle was directly under his nose.
As he gazed around him the youth felt a flash of astonishment at the
blue, pure sky and the sun gleamings on the trees and fields. It was
surprising that Nature had gone tranquilly on with her golden process
in the midst of so much devilment.
The youth awakened slowly. He came gradually back to a position from
which he could regard himself. For moments he had been scrutinizing
his person in a dazed way as if he had never before seen himself. Then
he picked up his cap from the ground. He wriggled in his jacket to
make a more comfortable fit, and kneeling relaced his shoe. He
thoughtfully mopped his reeking features.
So it was all over at last! The supreme trial had been passed. The
red, formidable difficulties of war had been vanquished.
He went into an ecstasy of self-satisfaction. He had the most
delightful sensations of his life. Standing as if apart from himself,
he viewed that last scene. He perceived that the man who had fought
thus was magnificent.
He felt that he was a fine fellow. He saw himself even with those
ideals which he had considered as far beyond him. He smiled in deep
Upon his fellows he beamed tenderness and good will. "Gee! ain't it
hot, hey?" he said affably to a man who was polishing his streaming
face with his coat sleeves.
"You bet!" said the other, grinning sociably. "I never seen sech dumb
hotness." He sprawled out luxuriously on the ground. "Gee, yes! An'
I hope we don't have no more fightin' till a week from Monday."
There were some handshakings and deep speeches with men whose features
were familiar, but with whom the youth now felt the bonds of tied
hearts. He helped a cursing comrade to bind up a wound of the shin.
But, of a sudden, cries of amazement broke out along the ranks of the
new regiment. "Here they come ag'in! Here they come ag'in!" The man
who had sprawled upon the ground started up and said, "Gosh!"
The youth turned quick eyes upon the field. He discerned forms begin
to swell in masses out of a distant wood. He again saw the tilted flag
The shells, which had ceased to trouble the regiment for a time, came
swirling again, and exploded in the grass or among the leaves of the
trees. They looked to be strange war flowers bursting into fierce
The men groaned. The luster faded from their eyes. Their smudged
countenances now expressed a profound dejection. They moved their
stiffened bodies slowly, and watched in sullen mood the frantic
approach of the enemy. The slaves toiling in the temple of this god
began to feel rebellion at his harsh tasks.
They fretted and complained each to each. "Oh, say, this is too much
of a good thing! Why can't somebody send us supports?"
"We ain't never goin' to stand this second banging. I didn't come here
to fight the hull damn' rebel army."
There was one who raised a doleful cry. "I wish Bill Smithers had trod
on my hand, insteader me treddin' on his'n." The sore joints of the
regiment creaked as it painfully floundered into position to repulse.
The youth stared. Surely, he thought, this impossible thing was not
about to happen. He waited as if he expected the enemy to suddenly
stop, apologize, and retire bowing. It was all a mistake.
But the firing began somewhere on the regimental line and ripped along
in both directions. The level sheets of flame developed great clouds
of smoke that tumbled and tossed in the mild wind near the ground for a
moment, and then rolled through the ranks as through a gate. The
clouds were tinged an earthlike yellow in the sunrays and in the shadow
were a sorry blue. The flag was sometimes eaten and lost in this mass
of vapor, but more often it projected, sun-touched, resplendent.
Into the youth's eyes there came a look that one can see in the orbs of
a jaded horse. His neck was quivering with nervous weakness and the
muscles of his arms felt numb and bloodless. His hands, too, seemed
large and awkward as if he was wearing invisible mittens. And there
was a great uncertainty about his knee joints.
The words that comrades had uttered previous to the firing began to
recur to him. "Oh, say, this is too much of a good thing! What do
they take us for--why don't they send supports? I didn't come here to
fight the hull damned rebel army."
He began to exaggerate the endurance, the skill, and the valor of those
who were coming. Himself reeling from exhaustion, he was astonished
beyond measure at such persistency. They must be machines of steel.
It was very gloomy struggling against such affairs, wound up perhaps to
fight until sundown.
He slowly lifted his rifle and catching a glimpse of the thickspread
field he blazed at a cantering cluster. He stopped then and began to
peer as best as he could through the smoke. He caught changing views
of the ground covered with men who were all running like pursued imps,
To the youth it was an onslaught of redoubtable dragons. He became
like the man who lost his legs at the approach of the red and green
monster. He waited in a sort of a horrified, listening attitude. He
seemed to shut his eyes and wait to be gobbled.
A man near him who up to this time had been working feverishly at his
rifle suddenly stopped and ran with howls. A lad whose face had borne
an expression of exalted courage, the majesty of he who dares give his
life, was, at an instant, smitten abject. He blanched like one who has
come to the edge of a cliff at midnight and is suddenly made aware.
There was a revelation. He, too, threw down his gun and fled. There
was no shame in his face. He ran like a rabbit.
Others began to scamper away through the smoke. The youth turned his
head, shaken from his trance by this movement as if the regiment was
leaving him behind. He saw the few fleeting forms.
He yelled then with fright and swung about. For a moment, in the great
clamor, he was like a proverbial chicken. He lost the direction of
safety. Destruction threatened him from all points.
Directly he began to speed toward the rear in great leaps. His rifle
and cap were gone. His unbuttoned coat bulged in the wind. The flap
of his cartridge box bobbed wildly, and his canteen, by its slender
cord, swung out behind. On his face was all the horror of those things
which he imagined.
The lieutenant sprang forward bawling. The youth saw his features
wrathfully red, and saw him make a dab with his sword. His one thought
of the incident was that the lieutenant was a peculiar creature to feel
interested in such matters upon this occasion.
He ran like a blind man. Two or three times he fell down. Once he
knocked his shoulder so heavily against a tree that he went headlong.
Since he had turned his back upon the fight his fears had been
wondrously magnified. Death about to thrust him between the shoulder
blades was far more dreadful than death about to smite him between the
eyes. When he thought of it later, he conceived the impression that it
is better to view the appalling than to be merely within hearing. The
noises of the battle were like stones; he believed himself liable to be
As he ran on he mingled with others. He dimly saw men on his right and
on his left, and he heard footsteps behind him. He thought that all
the regiment was fleeing, pursued by those ominous crashes.
In his flight the sound of these following footsteps gave him his one
meager relief. He felt vaguely that death must make a first choice of
the men who were nearest; the initial morsels for the dragons would be
then those who were following him. So he displayed the zeal of an
insane sprinter in his purpose to keep them in the rear. There was a
As he, leading, went across a little field, he found himself in a
region of shells. They hurtled over his head with long wild screams.
As he listened he imagined them to have rows of cruel teeth that
grinned at him. Once one lit before him and the livid lightning of the
explosion effectually barred the way in his chosen direction. He
groveled on the ground and then springing up went careering off through
He experienced a thrill of amazement when he came within view of a
battery in action. The men there seemed to be in conventional moods,
altogether unaware of the impending annihilation. The battery was
disputing with a distant antagonist and the gunners were wrapped in
admiration of their shooting. They were continually bending in coaxing
postures over the guns. They seemed to be patting them on the back and
encouraging them with words. The guns, stolid and undaunted, spoke
with dogged valor.
The precise gunners were coolly enthusiastic. They lifted their eyes
every chance to the smoke-wreathed hillock from whence the hostile
battery addressed them. The youth pitied them as he ran. Methodical
idiots! Machine-like fools! The refined joy of planting shells in the
midst of the other battery's formation would appear a little thing when
the infantry came swooping out of the woods.
The face of a youthful rider, who was jerking his frantic horse with an
abandon of temper he might display in a placid barnyard, was impressed
deeply upon his mind. He knew that he looked upon a man who would
presently be dead.
Too, he felt a pity for the guns, standing, six good comrades, in a
He saw a brigade going to the relief of its pestered fellows. He
scrambled upon a wee hill and watched it sweeping finely, keeping
formation in difficult places. The blue of the line was crusted with
steel color, and the brilliant flags projected. Officers were shouting.
This sight also filled him with wonder. The brigade was hurrying
briskly to be gulped into the infernal mouths of the war god. What
manner of men were they, anyhow? Ah, it was some wondrous breed! Or
else they didn't comprehend--the fools.
A furious order caused commotion in the artillery. An officer on a
bounding horse made maniacal motions with his arms. The teams went
swinging up from the rear, the guns were whirled about, and the battery
scampered away. The cannon with their noses poked slantingly at the
ground grunted and grumbled like stout men, brave but with objections
The youth went on, moderating his pace since he had left the place of
Later he came upon a general of division seated upon a horse that
pricked its ears in an interested way at the battle. There was a great
gleaming of yellow and patent leather about the saddle and bridle. The
quiet man astride looked mouse-colored upon such a splendid charger.
A jingling staff was galloping hither and thither. Sometimes the
general was surrounded by horsemen and at other times he was quite
alone. He looked to be much harassed. He had the appearance of a
business man whose market is swinging up and down.
The youth went slinking around this spot. He went as near as he dared
trying to overhear words. Perhaps the general, unable to comprehend
chaos, might call upon him for information. And he could tell him. He
knew all concerning it. Of a surety the force was in a fix, and any
fool could see that if they did not retreat while they had
He felt that he would like to thrash the general, or at least approach
and tell him in plain words exactly what he thought him to be. It was
criminal to stay calmly in one spot and make no effort to stay
destruction. He loitered in a fever of eagerness for the division
commander to apply to him.
As he warily moved about, he heard the general call out irritably:
"Tompkins, go over an' see Taylor, an' tell him not t' be in such an
all-fired hurry; tell him t' halt his brigade in th' edge of th' woods;
tell him t' detach a reg'ment--say I think th' center 'll break if we
don't help it out some; tell him t' hurry up."
A slim youth on a fine chestnut horse caught these swift words from the
mouth of his superior. He made his horse bound into a gallop almost
from a walk in his haste to go upon his mission. There was a cloud of
A moment later the youth saw the general bounce excitedly in his saddle.
"Yes, by heavens, they have!" The officer leaned forward. His face
was aflame with excitement. "Yes, by heavens, they 've held 'im! They
've held 'im!"
He began to blithely roar at his staff: "We 'll wallop 'im now. We
'll wallop 'im now. We 've got 'em sure." He turned suddenly upon an
aide: "Here--you--Jones--quick--ride after Tompkins--see Taylor--tell
him t' go in--everlastingly--like blazes--anything."
As another officer sped his horse after the first messenger, the
general beamed upon the earth like a sun. In his eyes was a desire to
chant a paean. He kept repeating, "They 've held 'em, by heavens!"
His excitement made his horse plunge, and he merrily kicked and swore
at it. He held a little carnival of joy on horseback.
The youth cringed as if discovered in a crime. By heavens, they had
won after all! The imbecile line had remained and become victors. He
could hear cheering.
He lifted himself upon his toes and looked in the direction of the
fight. A yellow fog lay wallowing on the treetops. From beneath it
came the clatter of musketry. Hoarse cries told of an advance.
He turned away amazed and angry. He felt that he had been wronged.
He had fled, he told himself, because annihilation approached. He had
done a good part in saving himself, who was a little piece of the army.
He had considered the time, he said, to be one in which it was the duty
of every little piece to rescue itself if possible. Later the officers
could fit the little pieces together again, and make a battle front.
If none of the little pieces were wise enough to save themselves from
the flurry of death at such a time, why, then, where would be the army?
It was all plain that he had proceeded according to very correct and
commendable rules. His actions had been sagacious things. They had
been full of strategy. They were the work of a master's legs.
Thoughts of his comrades came to him. The brittle blue line had
withstood the blows and won. He grew bitter over it. It seemed that
the blind ignorance and stupidity of those little pieces had betrayed
him. He had been overturned and crushed by their lack of sense in
holding the position, when intelligent deliberation would have
convinced them that it was impossible. He, the enlightened man who
looks afar in the dark, had fled because of his superior perceptions
and knowledge. He felt a great anger against his comrades. He knew it
could be proved that they had been fools.
He wondered what they would remark when later he appeared in camp. His
mind heard howls of derision. Their density would not enable them to
understand his sharper point of view.
He began to pity himself acutely. He was ill used. He was trodden
beneath the feet of an iron injustice. He had proceeded with wisdom
and from the most righteous motives under heaven's blue only to be
frustrated by hateful circumstances.
A dull, animal-like rebellion against his fellows, war in the abstract,
and fate grew within him. He shambled along with bowed head, his brain
in a tumult of agony and despair. When he looked loweringly up,
quivering at each sound, his eyes had the expression of those of a
criminal who thinks his guilt little and his punishment great, and
knows that he can find no words.
He went from the fields into a thick woods, as if resolved to bury
himself. He wished to get out of hearing of the crackling shots which
were to him like voices.
The ground was cluttered with vines and bushes, and the trees grew
close and spread out like bouquets. He was obliged to force his way
with much noise. The creepers, catching against his legs, cried out
harshly as their sprays were torn from the barks of trees. The
swishing saplings tried to make known his presence to the world. He
could not conciliate the forest. As he made his way, it was always
calling out protestations. When he separated embraces of trees and
vines the disturbed foliages waved their arms and turned their face
leaves toward him. He dreaded lest these noisy motions and cries
should bring men to look at him. So he went far, seeking dark and
After a time the sound of musketry grew faint and the cannon boomed in
the distance. The sun, suddenly apparent, blazed among the trees. The
insects were making rhythmical noises. They seemed to be grinding
their teeth in unison. A woodpecker stuck his impudent head around the
side of a tree. A bird flew on lighthearted wing.
Off was the rumble of death. It seemed now that Nature had no ears.
This landscape gave him assurance. A fair field holding life. It was
the religion of peace. It would die if its timid eyes were compelled
to see blood. He conceived Nature to be a woman with a deep aversion
He threw a pine cone at a jovial squirrel, and he ran with chattering
fear. High in a treetop he stopped, and, poking his head cautiously
from behind a branch, looked down with an air of trepidation.
The youth felt triumphant at this exhibition. There was the law, he
said. Nature had given him a sign. The squirrel, immediately upon
recognizing danger, had taken to his legs without ado. He did not
stand stolidly baring his furry belly to the missile, and die with an
upward glance at the sympathetic heavens. On the contrary, he had fled
as fast as his legs could carry him; and he was but an ordinary
squirrel, too--doubtless no philosopher of his race. The youth wended,
feeling that Nature was of his mind. She re-enforced his argument with
proofs that lived where the sun shone.
Once he found himself almost into a swamp. He was obliged to walk upon
bog tufts and watch his feet to keep from the oily mire. Pausing at
one time to look about him he saw, out at some black water, a small
animal pounce in and emerge directly with a gleaming fish.
The youth went again into the deep thickets. The brushed branches made
a noise that drowned the sounds of cannon. He walked on, going from
obscurity into promises of a greater obscurity.
At length he reached a place where the high, arching boughs made a
chapel. He softly pushed the green doors aside and entered. Pine
needles were a gentle brown carpet. There was a religious half light.
Near the threshold he stopped, horror-stricken at the sight of a thing.
He was being looked at by a dead man who was seated with his back
against a columnlike tree. The corpse was dressed in a uniform that
had once been blue, but was now faded to a melancholy shade of green.
The eyes, staring at the youth, had changed to the dull hue to be seen
on the side of a dead fish. The mouth was open. Its red had changed
to an appalling yellow. Over the gray skin of the face ran little
ants. One was trundling some sort of bundle along the upper lip.
The youth gave a shriek as he confronted the thing. He was for moments
turned to stone before it. He remained staring into the liquid-looking
eyes. The dead man and the living man exchanged a long look. Then the
youth cautiously put one hand behind him and brought it against a tree.
Leaning upon this he retreated, step by step, with his face still
toward the thing. He feared that if he turned his back the body might
spring up and stealthily pursue him.
The branches, pushing against him, threatened to throw him over upon
it. His unguided feet, too, caught aggravatingly in brambles; and with
it all he received a subtle suggestion to touch the corpse. As he
thought of his hand upon it he shuddered profoundly.
At last he burst the bonds which had fastened him to the spot and fled,
unheeding the underbrush. He was pursued by the sight of black ants
swarming greedily upon the gray face and venturing horribly near to the
After a time he paused, and, breathless and panting, listened. He
imagined some strange voice would come from the dead throat and squawk
after him in horrible menaces.
The trees about the portal of the chapel moved soughingly in a soft
wind. A sad silence was upon the little guarding edifice.
The trees began softly to sing a hymn of twilight. The sun sank until
slanted bronze rays struck the forest. There was a lull in the noises
of insects as if they had bowed their beaks and were making a
devotional pause. There was silence save for the chanted chorus of the
Then, upon this stillness, there suddenly broke a tremendous clangor of
sounds. A crimson roar came from the distance.
The youth stopped. He was transfixed by this terrific medley of all
noises. It was as if worlds were being rended. There was the ripping
sound of musketry and the breaking crash of the artillery.
His mind flew in all directions. He conceived the two armies to be at
each other panther fashion. He listened for a time. Then he began to
run in the direction of the battle. He saw that it was an ironical
thing for him to be running thus toward that which he had been at such
pains to avoid. But he said, in substance, to himself that if the
earth and the moon were about to clash, many persons would doubtless
plan to get upon the roofs to witness the collision.
As he ran, he became aware that the forest had stopped its music, as if
at last becoming capable of hearing the foreign sounds. The trees
hushed and stood motionless. Everything seemed to be listening to the
crackle and clatter and earthshaking thunder. The chorus peaked over
the still earth.
It suddenly occurred to the youth that the fight in which he had been
was, after all, but perfunctory popping. In the hearing of this
present din he was doubtful if he had seen real battle scenes. This
uproar explained a celestial battle; it was tumbling hordes a-struggle
in the air.
Reflecting, he saw a sort of a humor in the point of view of himself
and his fellows during the late encounter. They had taken themselves
and the enemy very seriously and had imagined that they were deciding
the war. Individuals must have supposed that they were cutting the
letters of their names deep into everlasting tablets of brass, or
enshrining their reputations forever in the hearts of their countrymen,
while, as to fact, the affair would appear in printed reports under a
meek and immaterial title. But he saw that it was good, else, he said,
in battle every one would surely run save forlorn hopes and their ilk.
He went rapidly on. He wished to come to the edge of the forest that
he might peer out.
As he hastened, there passed through his mind pictures of stupendous
conflicts. His accumulated thought upon such subjects was used to form
scenes. The noise was as the voice of an eloquent being, describing.
Sometimes the brambles formed chains and tried to hold him back.
Trees, confronting him, stretched out their arms and forbade him to
pass. After its previous hostility this new resistance of the forest
filled him with a fine bitterness. It seemed that Nature could not be
quite ready to kill him.
But he obstinately took roundabout ways, and presently he was where he
could see long gray walls of vapor where lay battle lines. The voices
of cannon shook him. The musketry sounded in long irregular surges
that played havoc with his ears. He stood regardant for a moment. His
eyes had an awestruck expression. He gawked in the direction of the
Presently he proceeded again on his forward way. The battle was like
the grinding of an immense and terrible machine to him. Its
complexities and powers, its grim processes, fascinated him. He must
go close and see it produce corpses.
He came to a fence and clambered over it. On the far side, the ground
was littered with clothes and guns. A newspaper, folded up, lay in the
dirt. A dead soldier was stretched with his face hidden in his arm.
Farther off there was a group of four or five corpses keeping mournful
company. A hot sun had blazed upon this spot.
In this place the youth felt that he was an invader. This forgotten
part of the battle ground was owned by the dead men, and he hurried, in
the vague apprehension that one of the swollen forms would rise and
tell him to begone.
He came finally to a road from which he could see in the distance dark
and agitated bodies of troops, smoke-fringed. In the lane was a
blood-stained crowd streaming to the rear. The wounded men were
cursing, groaning, and wailing. In the air, always, was a mighty swell
of sound that it seemed could sway the earth. With the courageous
words of the artillery and the spiteful sentences of the musketry
mingled red cheers. And from this region of noises came the steady
current of the maimed.
One of the wounded men had a shoeful of blood. He hopped like a
schoolboy in a game. He was laughing hysterically.
One was swearing that he had been shot in the arm through the
commanding general's mismanagement of the army. One was marching with
an air imitative of some sublime drum major. Upon his features was an
unholy mixture of merriment and agony. As he marched he sang a bit of
doggerel in a high and quavering voice:
"Sing a song 'a vic'try,
A pocketful 'a bullets,
Five an' twenty dead men
Baked in a--pie."
Parts of the procession limped and staggered to this tune.
Another had the gray seal of death already upon his face. His lips
were curled in hard lines and his teeth were clinched. His hands were
bloody from where he had pressed them upon his wound. He seemed to be
awaiting the moment when he should pitch headlong. He stalked like the
specter of a soldier, his eyes burning with the power of a stare into
There were some who proceeded sullenly, full of anger at their wounds,
and ready to turn upon anything as an obscure cause.
An officer was carried along by two privates. He was peevish. "Don't
joggle so, Johnson, yeh fool," he cried. "Think m' leg is made of
iron? If yeh can't carry me decent, put me down an' let some one else
He bellowed at the tottering crowd who blocked the quick march of his
bearers. "Say, make way there, can't yeh? Make way, dickens take it
They sulkily parted and went to the roadsides. As he was carried past
they made pert remarks to him. When he raged in reply and threatened
them, they told him to be damned.
The shoulder of one of the tramping bearers knocked heavily against the
spectral soldier who was staring into the unknown.
The youth joined this crowd and marched along with it. The torn bodies
expressed the awful machinery in which the men had been entangled.
Orderlies and couriers occasionally broke through the throng in the
roadway, scattering wounded men right and left, galloping on followed
by howls. The melancholy march was continually disturbed by the
messengers, and sometimes by bustling batteries that came swinging and
thumping down upon them, the officers shouting orders to clear the way.
There was a tattered man, fouled with dust, blood and powder stain from
hair to shoes, who trudged quietly at the youth's side. He was
listening with eagerness and much humility to the lurid descriptions of
a bearded sergeant. His lean features wore an expression of awe and
admiration. He was like a listener in a country store to wondrous
tales told among the sugar barrels. He eyed the story-teller with
unspeakable wonder. His mouth was agape in yokel fashion.
The sergeant, taking note of this, gave pause to his elaborate history
while he administered a sardonic comment. "Be keerful, honey, you 'll
be a-ketchin' flies," he said.
The tattered man shrank back abashed.
After a time he began to sidle near to the youth, and in a diffident
way try to make him a friend. His voice was gentle as a girl's voice
and his eyes were pleading. The youth saw with surprise that the
soldier had two wounds, one in the head, bound with a blood-soaked rag,
and the other in the arm, making that member dangle like a broken bough.
After they had walked together for some time the tattered man mustered
sufficient courage to speak. "Was pretty good fight, wa'n't it?" he
timidly said. The youth, deep in thought, glanced up at the bloody and
grim figure with its lamblike eyes. "What?"
"Was pretty good fight, wa'n't it?"
"Yes," said the youth shortly. He quickened his pace.
But the other hobbled industriously after him. There was an air of
apology in his manner, but he evidently thought that he needed only to
talk for a time, and the youth would perceive that he was a good fellow.
"Was pretty good fight, wa'n't it?" he began in a small voice, and the
he achieved the fortitude to continue. "Dern me if I ever see fellers
fight so. Laws, how they did fight! I knowed th' boys 'd like it when
they onct got square at it. Th' boys ain't had no fair chanct up t'
now, but this time they showed what they was. I knowed it 'd turn out
this way. Yeh can't lick them boys. No, sir! They 're fighters, they
He breathed a deep breath of humble admiration. He had looked at the
youth for encouragement several times. He received none, but gradually
he seemed to get absorbed in his subject.
"I was talkin' 'cross pickets with a boy from Georgie, onct, an' that
boy, he ses, 'Your fellers 'll all run like hell when they onct hearn a
gun,' he ses. 'Mebbe they will,' I ses, 'but I don't b'lieve none of
it,' I ses; 'an' b'jiminey,' I ses back t' 'um, 'mebbe your fellers 'll
all run like hell when they onct hearn a gun,' I ses. He larfed.
Well, they didn't run t' day, did they, hey? No, sir! They fit, an'
fit, an' fit."
His homely face was suffused with a light of love for the army which
was to him all things beautiful and powerful.
After a time he turned to the youth. "Where yeh hit, ol' boy?" he
asked in a brotherly tone.
The youth felt instant panic at this question, although at first its
full import was not borne in upon him.
"What?" he asked.
"Where yeh hit?" repeated the tattered man.
"Why," began the youth, "I--I--that is--why--I--"
He turned away suddenly and slid through the crowd. His brow was
heavily flushed, and his fingers were picking nervously at one of his
buttons. He bent his head and fastened his eyes studiously upon the
button as if it were a little problem.
The tattered man looked after him in astonishment.
The youth fell back in the procession until the tattered soldier was
not in sight. Then he started to walk on with the others.
But he was amid wounds. The mob of men was bleeding. Because of the
tattered soldier's question he now felt that his shame could be viewed.
He was continually casting sidelong glances to see if the men were
contemplating the letters of guilt he felt burned into his brow.
At times he regarded the wounded soldiers in an envious way. He
conceived persons with torn bodies to be peculiarly happy. He wished
that he, too, had a wound, a red badge of courage.
The spectral soldier was at his side like a stalking reproach. The
man's eyes were still fixed in a stare into the unknown. His gray,
appalling face had attracted attention in the crowd, and men, slowing
to his dreary pace, were walking with him. They were discussing his
plight, questioning him and giving him advice. In a dogged way he
repelled them, signing to them to go on and leave him alone. The
shadows of his face were deepening and his tight lips seemed holding in
check the moan of great despair. There could be seen a certain
stiffness in the movements of his body, as if he were taking infinite
care not to arouse the passion of his wounds. As he went on, he seemed
always looking for a place, like one who goes to choose a grave.
Something in the gesture of the man as he waved the bloody and pitying
soldiers away made the youth start as if bitten. He yelled in horror.
Tottering forward he laid a quivering hand upon the man's arm. As the
latter slowly turned his waxlike features toward him the youth screamed:
"Gawd! Jim Conklin!"
The tall soldier made a little commonplace smile. "Hello, Henry," he
The youth swayed on his legs and glared strangely. He stuttered and
stammered. "Oh, Jim--oh, Jim--oh, Jim--"
The tall soldier held out his gory hand. There was a curious red and
black combination of new blood and old blood upon it. "Where yeh been,
Henry?" he asked. He continued in a monotonous voice, "I thought mebbe
yeh got keeled over. There 's been thunder t' pay t'-day. I was
worryin' about it a good deal."
The youth still lamented. "Oh, Jim--oh, Jim--oh, Jim--"
"Yeh know," said the tall soldier, "I was out there." He made a
careful gesture. "An', Lord, what a circus! An', b'jiminey, I got
shot--I got shot. Yes, b'jiminey, I got shot." He reiterated this
fact in a bewildered way, as if he did not know how it came about.
The youth put forth anxious arms to assist him, but the tall soldier
went firmly as if propelled. Since the youth's arrival as a guardian
for his friend, the other wounded men had ceased to display much
interest. They occupied themselves again in dragging their own
tragedies toward the rear.
Suddenly, as the two friends marched on, the tall soldier seemed to be
overcome by a tremor. His face turned to a semblance of gray paste.
He clutched the youth's arm and looked all about him, as if dreading to
be overheard. Then he began to speak in a shaking whisper:
"I tell yeh what I'm 'fraid of, Henry--I'll tell yeh what I'm 'fraid
of. I 'm 'fraid I 'll fall down--an' them yeh know--them damned
artillery wagons--they like as not 'll run over me. That 's what I 'm
The youth cried out to him hysterically: "I 'll take care of yeh, Jim!
I 'll take care of yeh! I swear t' Gawd I will!"
"Sure--will yeh, Henry?" the tall soldier beseeched.
"Yes--yes--I tell yeh--I'll take care of yeh, Jim!" protested the
youth. He could not speak accurately because of the gulpings in his
But the tall soldier continued to beg in a lowly way. He now hung
babelike to the youth's arm. His eyes rolled in the wildness of his
terror. "I was allus a good friend t' yeh, wa'n't I, Henry? I 've
allus been a pretty good feller, ain't I? An' it ain't much t' ask, is
it? Jest t' pull me along outer th' road? I'd do it fer you, wouldn't
He paused in piteous anxiety to await his friend's reply.
The youth had reached an anguish where the sobs scorched him. He
strove to express his loyalty, but he could only make fantastic
However, the tall soldier seemed suddenly to forget all those fears.
He became again the grim, stalking specter of a soldier. He went
stonily forward. The youth wished his friend to lean upon him, but the
other always shook his head and strangely protested.
"No--no--no--leave me be--leave me be--"
His look was fixed again upon the unknown. He moved with mysterious
purpose, and all of the youth's offers he brushed aside.
"No--no--leave me be--leave me be--"
The youth had to follow.
Presently the latter heard a voice talking softly near his shoulder.
Turning he saw that it belonged to the tattered soldier. "Ye'd better
take 'im outa th' road, pardner. There's a batt'ry comin' helitywhoop
down th' road an' he 'll git runned over. He 's a goner anyhow in
about five minutes--yeh kin see that. Ye 'd better take 'im outa th'
road. Where th' blazes does hi git his stren'th from?"
"Lord knows!" cried the youth. He was shaking his hands helplessly.
He ran forward presently and grasped the tall soldier by the arm.
"Jim! Jim!" he coaxed, "come with me."
The tall soldier weakly tried to wrench himself free. "Huh," he said
vacantly. He stared at the youth for a moment. At last he spoke as if
dimly comprehending. "Oh! Inteh th' fields? Oh!"
He started blindly through the grass.
The youth turned once to look at the lashing riders and jouncing guns
of the battery. He was startled from this view by a shrill outcry from
the tattered man.
"Gawd! He's runnin'!"
Turning his head swiftly, the youth saw his friend running in a
staggering and stumbling way toward a little clump of bushes. His
heart seemed to wrench itself almost free from his body at this sight.
He made a noise of pain. He and the tattered man began a pursuit.
There was a singular race.
When he overtook the tall soldier he began to plead with all the words
he could find. "Jim--Jim--what are you doing--what makes you do this
way--you'll hurt yerself."
The same purpose was in the tall soldier's face. He protested in a
dulled way, keeping his eyes fastened on the mystic place of his
intentions. "No--no--don't tech me--leave me be--leave me be--"
The youth, aghast and filled with wonder at the tall soldier, began
quaveringly to question him. "Where yeh goin', Jim? What you thinking
about? Where you going? Tell me, won't you, Jim?"
The tall soldier faced about as upon relentless pursuers. In his eyes
there was a great appeal. "Leave me be, can't yeh? Leave me be for a
The youth recoiled. "Why, Jim," he said, in a dazed way, "what 's the
matter with you?"
The tall soldier turned and, lurching dangerously, went on. The youth
and the tattered soldier followed, sneaking as if whipped, feeling
unable to face the stricken man if he should again confront them. They
began to have thoughts of a solemn ceremony. There was something
rite-like in these movements of the doomed soldier. And there was a
resemblance in him to a devotee of a mad religion, blood-sucking,
muscle-wrenching, bone-crushing. They were awed and afraid. They hung
back lest he have at command a dreadful weapon.
At last, they saw him stop and stand motionless. Hastening up, they
perceived that his face wore an expression telling that he had at last
found the place for which he had struggled. His spare figure was
erect; his bloody hands were quietly at his side. He was waiting with
patience for something that he had come to meet. He was at the
rendezvous. They paused and stood, expectant.
There was a silence.
Finally, the chest of the doomed soldier began to heave with a strained
motion. It increased in violence until it was as if an animal was
within and was kicking and tumbling furiously to be free.
This spectacle of gradual strangulation made the youth writhe, and once
as his friend rolled his eyes, he saw something in them that made him
sink wailing to the ground. He raised his voice in a last supreme call.
The tall soldier opened his lips and spoke. He made a gesture. "Leave
me be--don't tech me--leave me be--"
There was another silence while he waited.
Suddenly his form stiffened and straightened. Then it was shaken by a
prolonged ague. He stared into space. To the two watchers there was a
curious and profound dignity in the firm lines of his awful face.
He was invaded by a creeping strangeness that slowly enveloped him.
For a moment the tremor of his legs caused him to dance a sort of
hideous hornpipe. His arms beat wildly about his head in expression of
His tall figure stretched itself to its full height. There was a
slight rending sound. Then it began to swing forward, slow and
straight, in the manner of a falling tree. A swift muscular contortion
made the left shoulder strike the ground first.
The body seemed to bounce a little way from the earth. "God!" said the
The youth had watched, spellbound, this ceremony at the place of
meeting. His face had been twisted into an expression of every agony
he had imagined for his friend.
He now sprang to his feet and, going closer, gazed upon the pastelike
face. The mouth was open and the teeth showed in a laugh.
As the flap of the blue jacket fell away from the body, he could see
that the side looked as if it had been chewed by wolves.
The youth turned, with sudden, livid rage, toward the battlefield. He
shook his fist. He seemed about to deliver a philippic.
The red sun was pasted in the sky like a wafer.
The tattered man stood musing.
"Well, he was a reg'lar jim-dandy fer nerve, wa'n't he," said he
finally in a little awestruck voice. "A reg'lar jim-dandy." He
thoughtfully poked one of the docile hands with his foot. "I wonner
where he got 'is stren'th from? I never seen a man do like that
before. It was a funny thing. Well, he was a reg'lar jim-dandy."
The youth desired to screech out his grief. He was stabbed, but his
tongue lay dead in the tomb of his mouth. He threw himself again upon
the ground and began to brood.
The tattered man stood musing.
"Look-a-here, pardner," he said, after a time. He regarded the corpse
as he spoke. "He 's up an' gone, ain't 'e, an' we might as well begin
t' look out fer ol' number one. This here thing is all over. He 's up
an' gone, ain't 'e? An' he 's all right here. Nobody won't bother
'im. An' I must say I ain't enjoying any great health m'self these
The youth, awakened by the tattered soldier's tone, looked quickly up.
He saw that he was swinging uncertainly on his legs and that his face
had turned to a shade of blue.
"Good Lord!" he cried, "you ain't goin' t'--not you, too."
The tattered man waved his hand. "Nary die," he said. "All I want is
some pea soup an' a good bed. Some pea soup," he repeated dreamfully.
The youth arose from the ground. "I wonder where he came from. I left
him over there." He pointed. "And now I find 'im here. And he was
coming from over there, too." He indicated a new direction. They both
turned toward the body as if to ask of it a question.
"Well," at length spoke the tattered man, "there ain't no use in our
stayin' here an' tryin' t' ask him anything."
The youth nodded an assent wearily. They both turned to gaze for a
moment at the corpse.
The youth murmured something.
"Well, he was a jim-dandy, wa'n't 'e?" said the tattered man as if in
They turned their backs upon it and started away. For a time they
stole softly, treading with their toes. It remained laughing there in
"I'm commencin' t' feel pretty bad," said the tattered man, suddenly
breaking one of his little silences. "I'm commencin' t' feel pretty
The youth groaned. "Oh Lord!" He wondered if he was to be the
tortured witness of another grim encounter.
But his companion waved his hand reassuringly. "Oh, I'm not goin' t'
die yit! There too much dependin' on me fer me t' die yit. No, sir!
Nary die! I CAN'T! Ye'd oughta see th' swad a' chil'ren I've got, an'
all like that."
The youth glancing at his companion could see by the shadow of a smile
that he was making some kind of fun.
As they plodded on the tattered soldier continued to talk. "Besides, if
I died, I wouldn't die th' way that feller did. That was th' funniest
thing. I'd jest flop down, I would. I never seen a feller die th' way
that feller did.
"Yeh know Tom Jamison, he lives next door t' me up home. He's a nice
feller, he is, an' we was allus good friends. Smart, too. Smart as a
steel trap. Well, when we was a-fightin' this atternoon,
all-of-a-sudden he begin t' rip up an' cuss an' beller at me. 'Yer
shot, yeh blamed infernal!'--he swear horrible--he ses t' me. I put up
m' hand t' m' head an' when I looked at m' fingers, I seen, sure
'nough, I was shot. I give a holler an' begin t' run, but b'fore I
could git away another one hit me in th' arm an' whirl' me clean
'round. I got skeared when they was all a-shootin' b'hind me an' I run
t' beat all, but I cotch it pretty bad. I've an idee I'd a been
fightin' yit, if t'was n't fer Tom Jamison."
Then he made a calm announcement: "There's two of 'em--little
ones--but they 're beginnin' t' have fun with me now. I don't b'lieve
I kin walk much furder."
They went slowly on in silence. "Yeh look pretty peek'ed yerself,"
said the tattered man at last. "I bet yeh 've got a worser one than
yeh think. Ye'd better take keer of yer hurt. It don't do t' let sech
things go. It might be inside mostly, an' them plays thunder. Where
is it located?" But he continued his harangue without waiting for a
reply. "I see a feller git hit plum in th' head when my reg'ment was
a-standin' at ease onct. An' everybody yelled to 'im: 'Hurt, John?
Are yeh hurt much?' 'No,' ses he. He looked kinder surprised, an' he
went on tellin' 'em how he felt. He sed he didn't feel nothin'. But,
by dad, th' first thing that feller knowed he was dead. Yes, he was
dead--stone dead. So, yeh wanta watch out. Yeh might have some queer
kind 'a hurt yerself. Yeh can't never tell. Where is your'n located?"
The youth had been wriggling since the introduction of this topic. He
now gave a cry of exasperation and made a furious motion with his hand.
"Oh, don't bother me!" he said. He was enraged against the tattered
man, and could have strangled him. His companions seemed ever to play
intolerable parts. They were ever upraising the ghost of shame on the
stick of their curiosity. He turned toward the tattered man as one at
bay. "Now, don't bother me," he repeated with desperate menace.
"Well, Lord knows I don't wanta bother anybody," said the other. There
was a little accent of despair in his voice as he replied, "Lord knows
I 've gota 'nough m' own t' tend to."
The youth, who had been holding a bitter debate with himself and
casting glances of hatred and contempt at the tattered man, here spoke
in a hard voice. "Good-by," he said.
The tattered man looked at him in gaping amazement. "Why--why,
pardner, where yeh goin'?" he asked unsteadily. The youth looking at
him, could see that he, too, like that other one, was beginning to act
dumb and animal-like. His thoughts seemed to be floundering about in
his head. "Now--now--look--a--here, you Tom Jamison--now--I won't have
this--this here won't do. Where--where yeh goin'?"
The youth pointed vaguely. "Over there," he replied.
"Well, now look--a--here--now," said the tattered man, rambling on in
idiot fashion. His head was hanging forward and his words were
slurred. "This thing won't do, now, Tom Jamison. It won't do. I know
yeh, yeh pig-headed devil. Yeh wanta go trompin' off with a bad hurt.
It ain't right--now--Tom Jamison--it ain't. Yeh wanta leave me take
keer of yeh, Tom Jamison. It ain't--right--it ain't--fer yeh t'
go--trompin' off--with a bad hurt--it ain't--ain't--ain't right--it
In reply the youth climbed a fence and started away. He could hear the
tattered man bleating plaintively.
Once he faced about angrily. "What?"
"Look--a--here, now, Tom Jamison--now--it ain't--"
The youth went on. Turning at a distance he saw the tattered man
wandering about helplessly in the field.
He now thought that he wished he was dead. He believed he envied those
men whose bodies lay strewn over the grass of the fields and on the
fallen leaves of the forest.
The simple questions of the tattered man had been knife thrusts to him.
They asserted a society that probes pitilessly at secrets until all is
apparent. His late companion's chance persistency made him feel that
he could not keep his crime concealed in his bosom. It was sure to be
brought plain by one of those arrows which cloud the air and are
constantly pricking, discovering, proclaiming those things which are
willed to be forever hidden. He admitted that he could not defend
himself against this agency. It was not within the power of vigilance.
He became aware that the furnace roar of the battle was growing louder.
Great blown clouds had floated to the still heights of air before him.
The noise, too, was approaching. The woods filtered men and the fields
As he rounded a hillock, he perceived that the roadway was now a crying
mass of wagons, teams, and men. From the heaving tangle issued
exhortations, commands, imprecations. Fear was sweeping it all along.
The cracking whips bit and horses plunged and tugged. The white-topped
wagons strained and stumbled in their exertions like fat sheep.
The youth felt comforted in a measure by this sight. They were all
retreating. Perhaps, then, he was not so bad after all. He seated
himself and watched the terror-stricken wagons. They fled like soft,
ungainly animals. All the roarers and lashers served to help him to
magnify the dangers and horrors of the engagement that he might try to
prove to himself that the thing with which men could charge him was in
truth a symmetrical act. There was an amount of pleasure to him in
watching the wild march of this vindication.
Presently the calm head of a forward-going column of infantry appeared
in the road. It came swiftly on. Avoiding the obstructions gave it
the sinuous movement of a serpent. The men at the head butted mules
with their musket stocks. They prodded teamsters indifferent to all
howls. The men forced their way through parts of the dense mass by
strength. The blunt head of the column pushed. The raving teamsters
swore many strange oaths.
The commands to make way had the ring of a great importance in them.
The men were going forward to the heart of the din. They were to
confront the eager rush of the enemy. They felt the pride of their
onward movement when the remainder of the army seemed trying to dribble
down this road. They tumbled teams about with a fine feeling that it
was no matter so long as their column got to the front in time. This
importance made their faces grave and stern. And the backs of the
officers were very rigid.
As the youth looked at them the black weight of his woe returned to
him. He felt that he was regarding a procession of chosen beings. The
separation was as great to him as if they had marched with weapons of
flame and banners of sunlight. He could never be like them. He could
have wept in his longings.
He searched about in his mind for an adequate malediction for the
indefinite cause, the thing upon which men turn the words of final
blame. It--whatever it was--was responsible for him, he said. There
lay the fault.
The haste of the column to reach the battle seemed to the forlorn young
man to be something much finer than stout fighting. Heroes, he
thought, could find excuses in that long seething lane. They could
retire with perfect self-respect and make excuses to the stars.
He wondered what those men had eaten that they could be in such haste
to force their way to grim chances of death. As he watched his envy
grew until he thought that he wished to change lives with one of them.
He would have liked to have used a tremendous force, he said, throw off
himself and become a better. Swift pictures of himself, apart, yet in
himself, came to him--a blue desperate figure leading lurid charges
with one knee forward and a broken blade high--a blue, determined
figure standing before a crimson and steel assault, getting calmly
killed on a high place before the eyes of all. He thought of the
magnificent pathos of his dead body.
These thoughts uplifted him. He felt the quiver of war desire. In his
ears, he heard the ring of victory. He knew the frenzy of a rapid
successful charge. The music of the trampling feet, the sharp voices,
the clanking arms of the column near him made him soar on the red wings
of war. For a few moments he was sublime.
He thought that he was about to start for the front. Indeed, he saw a
picture of himself, dust-stained, haggard, panting, flying to the front
at the proper moment to seize and throttle the dark, leering witch of
Then the difficulties of the thing began to drag at him. He hesitated,
balancing awkwardly on one foot.
He had no rifle; he could not fight with his hands, said he resentfully
to his plan. Well, rifles could be had for the picking. They were
Also, he continued, it would be a miracle if he found his regiment.
Well, he could fight with any regiment.
He started forward slowly. He stepped as if he expected to tread upon
some explosive thing. Doubts and he were struggling.
He would truly be a worm if any of his comrades should see him
returning thus, the marks of his flight upon him. There was a reply
that the intent fighters did not care for what happened rearward saving
that no hostile bayonets appeared there. In the battle-blur his face
would, in a way, be hidden, like the face of a cowled man.
But then he said that his tireless fate would bring forth, when the
strife lulled for a moment, a man to ask of him an explanation. In
imagination he felt the scrutiny of his companions as he painfully
labored through some lies.
Eventually, his courage expended itself upon these objections. The
debates drained him of his fire.
He was not cast down by this defeat of his plan, for, upon studying the
affair carefully, he could not but admit that the objections were very
Furthermore, various ailments had begun to cry out. In their presence
he could not persist in flying high with the wings of war; they
rendered it almost impossible for him to see himself in a heroic light.
He tumbled headlong.
He discovered that he had a scorching thirst. His face was so dry and
grimy that he thought he could feel his skin crackle. Each bone of his
body had an ache in it, and seemingly threatened to break with each
movement. His feet were like two sores. Also, his body was calling
for food. It was more powerful than a direct hunger. There was a
dull, weight-like feeling in his stomach, and, when he tried to walk,
his head swayed and he tottered. He could not see with distinctness.
Small patches of green mist floated before his vision.
While he had been tossed by many emotions, he had not been aware of
ailments. Now they beset him and made clamor. As he was at last
compelled to pay attention to them, his capacity for self-hate was
multiplied. In despair, he declared that he was not like those others.
He now conceded it to be impossible that he should ever become a hero.
He was a craven loon. Those pictures of glory were piteous things. He
groaned from his heart and went staggering off.
A certain mothlike quality within him kept him in the vicinity of the
battle. He had a great desire to see, and to get news. He wished to
know who was winning.
He told himself that, despite his unprecedented suffering, he had never
lost his greed for a victory, yet, he said, in a half-apologetic manner
to his conscience, he could not but know that a defeat for the army
this time might mean many favorable things for him. The blows of the
enemy would splinter regiments into fragments. Thus, many men of
courage, he considered, would be obliged to desert the colors and
scurry like chickens. He would appear as one of them. They would be
sullen brothers in distress, and he could then easily believe he had
not run any farther or faster than they. And if he himself could
believe in his virtuous perfection, he conceived that there would be
small trouble in convincing all others.
He said, as if in excuse for this hope, that previously the army had
encountered great defeats and in a few months had shaken off all blood
and tradition of them, emerging as bright and valiant as a new one;
thrusting out of sight the memory of disaster, and appearing with the
valor and confidence of unconquered legions. The shrilling voices of
the people at home would pipe dismally for a time, but various generals
were usually compelled to listen to these ditties. He of course felt
no compunctions for proposing a general as a sacrifice. He could not
tell who the chosen for the barbs might be, so he could center no
direct sympathy upon him. The people were afar and he did not conceive
public opinion to be accurate at long range. It was quite probable
they would hit the wrong man who, after he had recovered from his
amazement would perhaps spend the rest of his days in writing replies
to the songs of his alleged failure. It would be very unfortunate, no
doubt, but in this case a general was of no consequence to the youth.
In a defeat there would be a roundabout vindication of himself. He
thought it would prove, in a manner, that he had fled early because of
his superior powers of perception. A serious prophet upon predicting a
flood should be the first man to climb a tree. This would demonstrate
that he was indeed a seer.
A moral vindication was regarded by the youth as a very important
thing. Without salve, he could not, he thought, wear the sore badge of
his dishonor through life. With his heart continually assuring him
that he was despicable, he could not exist without making it, through
his actions, apparent to all men.
If the army had gone gloriously on he would be lost. If the din meant
that now his army's flags were tilted forward he was a condemned
wretch. He would be compelled to doom himself to isolation. If the
men were advancing, their indifferent feet were trampling upon his
chances for a successful life.
As these thoughts went rapidly through his mind, he turned upon them
and tried to thrust them away. He denounced himself as a villain. He
said that he was the most unutterably selfish man in existence. His
mind pictured the soldiers who would place their defiant bodies before
the spear of the yelling battle fiend, and as he saw their dripping
corpses on an imagined field, he said that he was their murderer.
Again he thought that he wished he was dead. He believed that he
envied a corpse. Thinking of the slain, he achieved a great contempt
for some of them, as if they were guilty for thus becoming lifeless.
They might have been killed by lucky chances, he said, before they had
had opportunities to flee or before they had been really tested. Yet
they would receive laurels from tradition. He cried out bitterly that
their crowns were stolen and their robes of glorious memories were
shams. However, he still said that it was a great pity he was not as
A defeat of the army had suggested itself to him as a means of escape
from the consequences of his fall. He considered, now, however, that
it was useless to think of such a possibility. His education had been
that success for that mighty blue machine was certain; that it would
make victories as a contrivance turns out buttons. He presently
discarded all his speculations in the other direction. He returned to
the creed of soldiers.
When he perceived again that it was not possible for the army to be
defeated, he tried to bethink him of a fine tale which he could take
back to his regiment, and with it turn the expected shafts of derision.
But, as he mortally feared these shafts, it became impossible for him
to invent a tale he felt he could trust. He experimented with many
schemes, but threw them aside one by one as flimsy. He was quick to
see vulnerable places in them all.
Furthermore, he was much afraid that some arrow of scorn might lay him
mentally low before he could raise his protecting tale.
He imagined the whole regiment saying: "Where's Henry Fleming? He
run, didn't 'e? Oh, my!" He recalled various persons who would be
quite sure to leave him no peace about it. They would doubtless
question him with sneers, and laugh at his stammering hesitation. In
the next engagement they would try to keep watch of him to discover
when he would run.
Wherever he went in camp, he would encounter insolent and lingeringly
cruel stares. As he imagined himself passing near a crowd of comrades,
he could hear one say, "There he goes!"
Then, as if the heads were moved by one muscle, all the faces were
turned toward him with wide, derisive grins. He seemed to hear some
one make a humorous remark in a low tone. At it the others all crowed
and cackled. He was a slang phrase.
The column that had butted stoutly at the obstacles in the roadway was
barely out of the youth's sight before he saw dark waves of men come
sweeping out of the woods and down through the fields. He knew at once
that the steel fibers had been washed from their hearts. They were
bursting from their coats and their equipments as from entanglements.
They charged down upon him like terrified buffaloes.
Behind them blue smoke curled and clouded above the treetops, and
through the thickets he could sometimes see a distant pink glare. The
voices of the cannon were clamoring in interminable chorus.
The youth was horrorstricken. He stared in agony and amazement. He
forgot that he was engaged in combating the universe. He threw aside
his mental pamphlets on the philosophy of the retreated and rules for
the guidance of the damned.
The fight was lost. The dragons were coming with invincible strides.
The army, helpless in the matted thickets and blinded by the
overhanging night, was going to be swallowed. War, the red animal,
war, the blood-swollen god, would have bloated fill.
Within him something bade to cry out. He had the impulse to make a
rallying speech, to sing a battle hymn, but he could only get his
tongue to call into the air: "Why--why--what--what 's th' matter?"
Soon he was in the midst of them. They were leaping and scampering all
about him. Their blanched faces shone in the dusk. They seemed, for
the most part, to be very burly men. The youth turned from one to
another of them as they galloped along. His incoherent questions were
lost. They were heedless of his appeals. They did not seem to see him.
They sometimes gabbled insanely. One huge man was asking of the sky:
"Say, where de plank road? Where de plank road!" It was as if he had
lost a child. He wept in his pain and dismay.
Presently, men were running hither and thither in all ways. The
artillery booming, forward, rearward, and on the flanks made jumble of
ideas of direction. Landmarks had vanished into the gathered gloom.
The youth began to imagine that he had got into the center of the
tremendous quarrel, and he could perceive no way out of it. From the
mouths of the fleeing men came a thousand wild questions, but no one
The youth, after rushing about and throwing interrogations at the
heedless bands of retreating infantry, finally clutched a man by the
arm. They swung around face to face.
"Why--why--" stammered the youth struggling with his balking tongue.
The man screamed: "Let go me! Let go me!" His face was livid and his
eyes were rolling uncontrolled. He was heaving and panting. He still
grasped his rifle, perhaps having forgotten to release his hold upon
it. He tugged frantically, and the youth being compelled to lean
forward was dragged several paces.
"Let go me! Let go me!"
"Why--why--" stuttered the youth.
"Well, then!" bawled the man in a lurid rage. He adroitly and fiercely
swung his rifle. It crushed upon the youth's head. The man ran on.
The youth's fingers had turned to paste upon the other's arm. The
energy was smitten from his muscles. He saw the flaming wings of
lightning flash before his vision. There was a deafening rumble of
thunder within his head.
Suddenly his legs seemed to die. He sank writhing to the ground. He
tried to arise. In his efforts against the numbing pain he was like a
man wrestling with a creature of the air.
There was a sinister struggle.
Sometimes he would achieve a position half erect, battle with the air
for a moment, and then fall again, grabbing at the grass. His face was
of a clammy pallor. Deep groans were wrenched from him.
At last, with a twisting movement, he got upon his hands and knees, and
from thence, like a babe trying to walk, to his feet. Pressing his
hands to his temples he went lurching over the grass.
He fought an intense battle with his body. His dulled senses wished
him to swoon and he opposed them stubbornly, his mind portraying
unknown dangers and mutilations if he should fall upon the field. He
went tall soldier fashion. He imagined secluded spots where he could
fall and be unmolested. To search for one he strove against the tide
Once he put his hand to the top of his head and timidly touched the
wound. The scratching pain of the contact made him draw a long breath
through his clinched teeth. His fingers were dabbled with blood. He
regarded them with a fixed stare.
Around him he could hear the grumble of jolted cannon as the scurrying
horses were lashed toward the front. Once, a young officer on a
besplashed charger nearly ran him down. He turned and watched the mass
of guns, men, and horses sweeping in a wide curve toward a gap in a
fence. The officer was making excited motions with a gauntleted hand.
The guns followed the teams with an air of unwillingness, of being
dragged by the heels.
Some officers of the scattered infantry were cursing and railing like
fishwives. Their scolding voices could be heard above the din. Into
the unspeakable jumble in the roadway rode a squadron of cavalry. The
faded yellow of their facings shone bravely. There was a mighty
The artillery were assembling as if for a conference.
The blue haze of evening was upon the field. The lines of forest were
long purple shadows. One cloud lay along the western sky partly
smothering the red.
As the youth left the scene behind him, he heard the guns suddenly roar
out. He imagined them shaking in black rage. They belched and howled
like brass devils guarding a gate. The soft air was filled with the
tremendous remonstrance. With it came the shattering peal of opposing
infantry. Turning to look behind him, he could see sheets of orange
light illumine the shadowy distance. There were subtle and sudden
lightnings in the far air. At times he thought he could see heaving
masses of men.
He hurried on in the dusk. The day had faded until he could barely
distinguish place for his feet. The purple darkness was filled with
men who lectured and jabbered. Sometimes he could see them
gesticulating against the blue and somber sky. There seemed to be a
great ruck of men and munitions spread about in the forest and in the
The little narrow roadway now lay lifeless. There were overturned
wagons like sun-dried bowlders. The bed of the former torrent was
choked with the bodies of horses and splintered parts of war machines.
It had come to pass that his wound pained him but little. He was
afraid to move rapidly, however, for a dread of disturbing it. He held
his head very still and took many precautions against stumbling. He
was filled with anxiety, and his face was pinched and drawn in
anticipation of the pain of any sudden mistake of his feet in the gloom.
His thoughts, as he walked, fixed intently upon his hurt. There was a
cool, liquid feeling about it and he imagined blood moving slowly down
under his hair. His head seemed swollen to a size that made him think
his neck to be inadequate.
The new silence of his wound made much worriment. The little
blistering voices of pain that had called out from his scalp were, he
thought, definite in their expression of danger. By them he believed
he could measure his plight. But when they remained ominously silent
he became frightened and imagined terrible fingers that clutched into
Amid it he began to reflect upon various incidents and conditions of
the past. He bethought him of certain meals his mother had cooked at
home, in which those dishes of which he was particularly fond had
occupied prominent positions. He saw the spread table. The pine walls
of the kitchen were glowing in the warm light from the stove. Too, he
remembered how he and his companions used to go from the school-house
to the bank of a shaded pool. He saw his clothes in disorderly array
upon the grass of the bank. He felt the swash of the fragrant water
upon his body. The leaves of the overhanging maple rustled with melody
in the wind of youthful summer.
He was overcome presently by a dragging weariness. His head hung
forward and his shoulders were stooped as if he were bearing a great
bundle. His feet shuffled along the ground.
He held continuous arguments as to whether he should lie down and sleep
at some near spot, or force himself on until he reached a certain
haven. He often tried to dismiss the question, but his body persisted
in rebellion and his senses nagged at him like pampered babies.
At last he heard a cheery voice near his shoulder: "Yeh seem t' be in a
pretty bad way, boy?"
The youth did not look up, but he assented with thick tongue. "Uh!"
The owner of the cheery voice took him firmly by the arm. "Well," he
said, with a round laugh, "I'm goin' your way. Th' hull gang is goin'
your way. An' I guess I kin give yeh a lift." They began to walk like
a drunken man and his friend.
As they went along, the man questioned the youth and assisted him with
the replies like one manipulating the mind of a child. Sometimes he
interjected anecdotes. "What reg'ment do yeh b'long teh? Eh? What 's
that? Th' 304th N' York? Why, what corps is that in? Oh, it is?
Why, I thought they wasn't engaged t'-day-they 're 'way over in th'
center. Oh, they was, eh? Well pretty nearly everybody got their
share 'a fightin' t'-day. By dad, I give myself up fer dead any number
'a times. There was shootin' here an' shootin' there, an' hollerin'
here an' hollerin' there, in th' damn' darkness, until I couldn't tell
t' save m' soul which side I was on. Sometimes I thought I was sure
'nough from Ohier, an' other times I could 'a swore I was from th'
bitter end of Florida. It was th' most mixed up dern thing I ever see.
An' these here hull woods is a reg'lar mess. It 'll be a miracle if we
find our reg'ments t'-night. Pretty soon, though, we 'll meet a-plenty
of guards an' provost-guards, an' one thing an' another. Ho! there
they go with an off'cer, I guess. Look at his hand a-draggin'. He 's
got all th' war he wants, I bet. He won't be talkin' so big about his
reputation an' all when they go t' sawin' off his leg. Poor feller!
My brother 's got whiskers jest like that. How did yeh git 'way over
here, anyhow? Your reg'ment is a long way from here, ain't it? Well,
I guess we can find it. Yeh know there was a boy killed in my comp'ny
t'-day that I thought th' world an' all of. Jack was a nice feller.
By ginger, it hurt like thunder t' see ol' Jack jest git knocked flat.
We was a-standin' purty peaceable fer a spell, 'though there was men
runnin' ev'ry way all 'round us, an' while we was a-standin' like that,
'long come a big fat feller. He began t' peck at Jack's elbow, an' he
ses: 'Say, where 's th' road t' th' river?' An' Jack, he never paid no
attention, an' th' feller kept on a-peckin' at his elbow an' sayin':
'Say, where 's th' road t' th' river?' Jack was a-lookin' ahead all th'
time tryin' t' see th' Johnnies comin' through th' woods, an' he never
paid no attention t' this big fat feller fer a long time, but at last
he turned 'round an' he ses: 'Ah, go t' hell an' find th' road t' th'
river!' An' jest then a shot slapped him bang on th' side th' head. He
was a sergeant, too. Them was his last words. Thunder, I wish we was
sure 'a findin' our reg'ments t'-night. It 's goin' t' be long
huntin'. But I guess we kin do it."
In the search which followed, the man of the cheery voice seemed to the
youth to possess a wand of a magic kind. He threaded the mazes of the
tangled forest with a strange fortune. In encounters with guards and
patrols he displayed the keenness of a detective and the valor of a
gamin. Obstacles fell before him and became of assistance. The youth,
with his chin still on his breast, stood woodenly by while his
companion beat ways and means out of sullen things.
The forest seemed a vast hive of men buzzing about in frantic circles,
but the cheery man conducted the youth without mistakes, until at last
he began to chuckle with glee and self-satisfaction. "Ah, there yeh
are! See that fire?"
The youth nodded stupidly.
"Well, there 's where your reg'ment is. An' now, good-by, ol' boy,
good luck t' yeh."
A warm and strong hand clasped the youth's languid fingers for an
instant, and then he heard a cheerful and audacious whistling as the
man strode away. As he who had so befriended him was thus passing out
of his life, it suddenly occurred to the youth that he had not once
seen his face.
The youth went slowly toward the fire indicated by his departed friend.
As he reeled, he bethought him of the welcome his comrades would give
him. He had a conviction that he would soon feel in his sore heart the
barbed missiles of ridicule. He had no strength to invent a tale; he
would be a soft target.
He made vague plans to go off into the deeper darkness and hide, but
they were all destroyed by the voices of exhaustion and pain from his
body. His ailments, clamoring, forced him to seek the place of food
and rest, at whatever cost.
He swung unsteadily toward the fire. He could see the forms of men
throwing black shadows in the red light, and as he went nearer it
became known to him in some way that the ground was strewn with
Of a sudden he confronted a black and monstrous figure. A rifle barrel
caught some glinting beams. "Halt! halt!" He was dismayed for a
moment, but he presently thought that he recognized the nervous voice.
As he stood tottering before the rifle barrel, he called out: "Why,
hello, Wilson, you--you here?"
The rifle was lowered to a position of caution and the loud soldier
came slowly forward. He peered into the youth's face. "That you,
"Yes, it's--it's me."
"Well, well, ol' boy," said the other, "by ginger, I'm glad t' see yeh!
I give yeh up fer a goner. I thought yeh was dead sure enough." There
was husky emotion in his voice.
The youth found that now he could barely stand upon his feet. There
was a sudden sinking of his forces. He thought he must hasten to
produce his tale to protect him from the missiles already on the lips
of his redoubtable comrades. So, staggering before the loud soldier,
he began: "Yes, yes. I've--I've had an awful time. I've been all
over. Way over on th' right. Ter'ble fightin' over there. I had an
awful time. I got separated from the reg'ment. Over on th' right, I
got shot. In th' head. I never see sech fightin'. Awful time. I
don't see how I could a' got separated from th' reg'ment. I got shot,
His friend had stepped forward quickly. "What? Got shot? Why didn't
yeh say so first? Poor ol' boy, we must--hol' on a minnit; what am I
doin'. I'll call Simpson."
Another figure at that moment loomed in the gloom. They could see that
it was the corporal. "Who yeh talkin' to, Wilson?" he demanded. His
voice was anger-toned. "Who yeh talkin' to? Yeh th' derndest
sentinel--why--hello, Henry, you here? Why, I thought you was dead
four hours ago! Great Jerusalem, they keep turnin' up every ten
minutes or so! We thought we'd lost forty-two men by straight count,
but if they keep on a-comin' this way, we'll git th' comp'ny all back
by mornin' yit. Where was yeh?"
"Over on th' right. I got separated"--began the youth with
But his friend had interrupted hastily. "Yes, an' he got shot in th'
head an' he's in a fix, an' we must see t' him right away." He rested
his rifle in the hollow of his left arm and his right around the
"Gee, it must hurt like thunder!" he said.
The youth leaned heavily upon his friend. "Yes, it hurts--hurts a good
deal," he replied. There was a faltering in his voice.
"Oh," said the corporal. He linked his arm in the youth's and drew him
forward. "Come on, Henry. I'll take keer 'a yeh."
As they went on together the loud private called out after them: "Put
'im t' sleep in my blanket, Simpson. An'--hol' on a minnit--here's my
canteen. It's full 'a coffee. Look at his head by th' fire an' see
how it looks. Maybe it's a pretty bad un. When I git relieved in a
couple 'a minnits, I'll be over an' see t' him."
The youth's senses were so deadened that his friend's voice sounded
from afar and he could scarcely feel the pressure of the corporal's
arm. He submitted passively to the latter's directing strength. His
head was in the old manner hanging forward upon his breast. His knees
The corporal led him into the glare of the fire. "Now, Henry," he
said, "let's have look at yer ol' head."
The youth sat obediently and the corporal, laying aside his rifle,
began to fumble in the bushy hair of his comrade. He was obliged to
turn the other's head so that the full flush of the fire light would
beam upon it. He puckered his mouth with a critical air. He drew back
his lips and whistled through his teeth when his fingers came in
contact with the splashed blood and the rare wound.
"Ah, here we are!" he said. He awkwardly made further investigations.
"Jest as I thought," he added, presently. "Yeh've been grazed by a
ball. It's raised a queer lump jest as if some feller had lammed yeh
on th' head with a club. It stopped a-bleedin' long time ago. Th'
most about it is that in th' mornin' yeh'll fell that a number ten hat
wouldn't fit yeh. An' your head'll be all het up an' feel as dry as
burnt pork. An' yeh may git a lot 'a other sicknesses, too, by
mornin'. Yeh can't never tell. Still, I don't much think so. It's
jest a damn' good belt on th' head, an' nothin' more. Now, you jest
sit here an' don't move, while I go rout out th' relief. Then I'll
send Wilson t' take keer 'a yeh."
The corporal went away. The youth remained on the ground like a
parcel. He stared with a vacant look into the fire.
After a time he aroused, for some part, and the things about him began
to take form. He saw that the ground in the deep shadows was cluttered
with men, sprawling in every conceivable posture. Glancing narrowly
into the more distant darkness, he caught occasional glimpses of
visages that loomed pallid and ghostly, lit with a phosphorescent glow.
These faces expressed in their lines the deep stupor of the tired
soldiers. They made them appear like men drunk with wine. This bit of
forest might have appeared to an ethereal wanderer as a scene of the
result of some frightful debauch.
On the other side of the fire the youth observed an officer asleep,
seated bolt upright, with his back against a tree. There was something
perilous in his position. Badgered by dreams, perhaps, he swayed with
little bounces and starts, like an old, toddy-stricken grandfather in a
chimney corner. Dust and stains were upon his face. His lower jaw
hung down as if lacking strength to assume its normal position. He was
the picture of an exhausted soldier after a feast of war.
He had evidently gone to sleep with his sword in his arms. These two
had slumbered in an embrace, but the weapon had been allowed in time to
fall unheeded to the ground. The brass-mounted hilt lay in contact
with some parts of the fire.
Within the gleam of rose and orange light from the burning sticks were
other soldiers, snoring and heaving, or lying deathlike in slumber. A
few pairs of legs were stuck forth, rigid and straight. The shoes
displayed the mud or dust of marches and bits of rounded trousers,
protruding from the blankets, showed rents and tears from hurried
pitchings through the dense brambles.
The fire cackled musically. From it swelled light smoke. Overhead the
foliage moved softly. The leaves, with their faces turned toward the
blaze, were colored shifting hues of silver, often edged with red. Far
off to the right, through a window in the forest could be seen a
handful of stars lying, like glittering pebbles, on the black level of
Occasionally, in this low-arched hall, a soldier would arouse and turn
his body to a new position, the experience of his sleep having taught
him of uneven and objectionable places upon the ground under him. Or,
perhaps, he would lift himself to a sitting posture, blink at the fire
for an unintelligent moment, throw a swift glance at his prostrate
companion, and then cuddle down again with a grunt of sleepy content.
The youth sat in a forlorn heap until his friend the loud young soldier
came, swinging two canteens by their light strings. "Well, now, Henry,
ol' boy," said the latter, "we'll have yeh fixed up in jest about a
He had the bustling ways of an amateur nurse. He fussed around the
fire and stirred the sticks to brilliant exertions. He made his
patient drink largely from the canteen that contained the coffee. It
was to the youth a delicious draught. He tilted his head afar back and
held the canteen long to his lips. The cool mixture went caressingly
down his blistered throat. Having finished, he sighed with comfortable
The loud young soldier watched his comrade with an air of satisfaction.
He later produced an extensive handkerchief from his pocket. He folded
it into a manner of bandage and soused water from the other canteen
upon the middle of it. This crude arrangement he bound over the
youth's head, tying the ends in a queer knot at the back of the neck.
"There," he said, moving off and surveying his deed, "yeh look like th'
devil, but I bet yeh feel better."
The youth contemplated his friend with grateful eyes. Upon his aching
and swelling head the cold cloth was like a tender woman's hand.
"Yeh don't holler ner say nothin'," remarked his friend approvingly.
"I know I'm a blacksmith at takin' keer 'a sick folks, an' yeh never
squeaked. Yer a good un, Henry. Most 'a men would a' been in th'
hospital long ago. A shot in th' head ain't foolin' business."
The youth made no reply, but began to fumble with the buttons of his
"Well, come, now," continued his friend, "come on. I must put yeh t'
bed an' see that yeh git a good night's rest."
The other got carefully erect, and the loud young soldier led him among
the sleeping forms lying in groups and rows. Presently he stooped and
picked up his blankets. He spread the rubber one upon the ground and
placed the woolen one about the youth's shoulders.
"There now," he said, "lie down an' git some sleep."
The youth, with his manner of doglike obedience, got carefully down
like a crone stooping. He stretched out with a murmur of relief and
comfort. The ground felt like the softest couch.
But of a sudden he ejaculated: "Hol' on a minnit! Where you goin' t'
His friend waved his hand impatiently. "Right down there by yeh."
"Well, but hol' on a minnit," continued the youth. "What yeh goin' t'
sleep in? I've got your--"
The loud young soldier snarled: "Shet up an' go on t' sleep. Don't be
makin' a damn' fool 'a yerself," he said severely.
After the reproof the youth said no more. An exquisite drowsiness had
spread through him. The warm comfort of the blanket enveloped him and
made a gentle langour. His head fell forward on his crooked arm and
his weighted lids went softly down over his eyes. Hearing a splatter
of musketry from the distance, he wondered indifferently if those men
sometimes slept. He gave a long sigh, snuggled down into his blanket,
and in a moment was like his comrades.
When the youth awoke it seemed to him that he had been asleep for a
thousand years, and he felt sure that he opened his eyes upon an
unexpected world. Gray mists were slowly shifting before the first
efforts of the sun rays. An impending splendor could be seen in the
eastern sky. An icy dew had chilled his face, and immediately upon
arousing he curled farther down into his blanket. He stared for a
while at the leaves overhead, moving in a heraldic wind of the day.
The distance was splintering and blaring with the noise of fighting.
There was in the sound an expression of a deadly persistency, as if it
had not began and was not to cease.
About him were the rows and groups of men that he had dimly seen the
previous night. They were getting a last draught of sleep before the
awakening. The gaunt, careworn features and dusty figures were made
plain by this quaint light at the dawning, but it dressed the skin of
the men in corpse-like hues and made the tangled limbs appear pulseless
and dead. The youth started up with a little cry when his eyes first
swept over this motionless mass of men, thick-spread upon the ground,
pallid, and in strange postures. His disordered mind interpreted the
hall of the forest as a charnel place. He believed for an instant that
he was in the house of the dead, and he did not dare to move lest these
corpses start up, squalling and squawking. In a second, however, he
achieved his proper mind. He swore a complicated oath at himself. He
saw that this somber picture was not a fact of the present, but a mere
He heard then the noise of a fire crackling briskly in the cold air,
and, turning his head, he saw his friend pottering busily about a small
blaze. A few other figures moved in the fog, and he heard the hard
cracking of axe blows.
Suddenly there was a hollow rumble of drums. A distant bugle sang
faintly. Similar sounds, varying in strength, came from near and far
over the forest. The bugles called to each other like brazen
gamecocks. The near thunder of the regimental drums rolled.
The body of men in the woods rustled. There was a general uplifting of
heads. A murmuring of voices broke upon the air. In it there was much
bass of grumbling oaths. Strange gods were addressed in condemnation
of the early hours necessary to correct war. An officer's peremptory
tenor rang out and quickened the stiffened movement of the men. The
tangled limbs unraveled. The corpse-hued faces were hidden behind
fists that twisted slowly in the eye sockets.
The youth sat up and gave vent to an enormous yawn. "Thunder!" he
remarked petulantly. He rubbed his eyes, and then putting up his hand
felt carefully the bandage over his wound. His friend, perceiving him
to be awake, came from the fire. "Well, Henry, ol' man, how do yeh
feel this mornin'?" he demanded.
The youth yawned again. Then he puckered his mouth to a little pucker.
His head, in truth, felt precisely like a melon, and there was an
unpleasant sensation at his stomach.
"Oh, Lord, I feel pretty bad," he said.
"Thunder!" exclaimed the other. "I hoped ye'd feel all right this
mornin'. Let's see th' bandage--I guess it's slipped." He began to
tinker at the wound in rather a clumsy way until the youth exploded.
"Gosh-dern it!" he said in sharp irritation; "you're the hangdest man I
ever saw! You wear muffs on your hands. Why in good thunderation
can't you be more easy? I'd rather you'd stand off an' throw guns at
it. Now, go slow, an' don't act as if you was nailing down carpet."
He glared with insolent command at his friend, but the latter answered
soothingly. "Well, well, come now, an' git some grub," he said.
"Then, maybe, yeh'll feel better."
At the fireside the loud young soldier watched over his comrade's wants
with tenderness and care. He was very busy marshaling the little black
vagabonds of tin cups and pouring into them the streaming iron colored
mixture from a small and sooty tin pail. He had some fresh meat, which
he roasted hurriedly on a stick. He sat down then and contemplated the
youth's appetite with glee.
The youth took note of a remarkable change in his comrade since those
days of camp life upon the river bank. He seemed no more to be
continually regarding the proportions of his personal prowess. He was
not furious at small words that pricked his conceits. He was no more a
loud young soldier. There was about him now a fine reliance. He
showed a quiet belief in his purposes and his abilities. And this
inward confidence evidently enabled him to be indifferent to little
words of other men aimed at him.
The youth reflected. He had been used to regarding his comrade as a
blatant child with an audacity grown from his inexperience,
thoughtless, headstrong, jealous, and filled with a tinsel courage. A
swaggering babe accustomed to strut in his own dooryard. The youth
wondered where had been born these new eyes; when his comrade had made
the great discovery that there were many men who would refuse to be
subjected by him. Apparently, the other had now climbed a peak of
wisdom from which he could perceive himself as a very wee thing. And
the youth saw that ever after it would be easier to live in his
His comrade balanced his ebony coffee-cup on his knee. "Well, Henry,"
he said, "what d'yeh think th' chances are? D'yeh think we'll wallop
The youth considered for a moment. "Day-b'fore-yesterday," he finally
replied, with boldness, "you would 'a' bet you'd lick the hull
kit-an'-boodle all by yourself."
His friend looked a trifle amazed. "Would I?" he asked. He pondered.
"Well, perhaps I would," he decided at last. He stared humbly at the
The youth was quite disconcerted at this surprising reception of his
remarks. "Oh, no, you wouldn't either," he said, hastily trying to
But the other made a deprecating gesture. "Oh, yeh needn't mind,
Henry," he said. "I believe I was a pretty big fool in those days." He
spoke as after a lapse of years.
There was a little pause.
"All th' officers say we've got th' rebs in a pretty tight box," said
the friend, clearing his throat in a commonplace way. "They all seem
t' think we've got 'em jest where we want 'em."
"I don't know about that," the youth replied. "What I seen over on th'
right makes me think it was th' other way about. From where I was, it
looked as if we was gettin' a good poundin' yestirday."
"D'yeh think so?" inquired the friend. "I thought we handled 'em
pretty rough yestirday."
"Not a bit," said the youth. "Why, lord, man, you didn't see nothing
of the fight. Why!" Then a sudden thought came to him. "Oh! Jim
His friend started. "What? Is he? Jim Conklin?"
The youth spoke slowly. "Yes. He's dead. Shot in th' side."
"Yeh don't say so. Jim Conklin. . .poor cuss!"
All about them were other small fires surrounded by men with their
little black utensils. From one of these near came sudden sharp voices
in a row. It appeared that two light-footed soldiers had been teasing
a huge, bearded man, causing him to spill coffee upon his blue knees.
The man had gone into a rage and had sworn comprehensively. Stung by
his language, his tormentors had immediately bristled at him with a
great show of resenting unjust oaths. Possibly there was going to be a
The friend arose and went over to them, making pacific motions with his
arms. "Oh, here, now, boys, what's th' use?" he said. "We'll be at
th' rebs in less'n an hour. What's th' good fightin' 'mong ourselves?"
One of the light-footed soldiers turned upon him red-faced and violent.
"Yeh needn't come around here with yer preachin'. I s'pose yeh don't
approve 'a fightin' since Charley Morgan licked yeh; but I don't see
what business this here is 'a yours or anybody else."
"Well, it ain't," said the friend mildly. "Still I hate t' see--"
There was a tangled argument.
"Well, he--," said the two, indicating their opponent with accusative
The huge soldier was quite purple with rage. He pointed at the two
soldiers with his great hand, extended clawlike. "Well, they--"
But during this argumentative time the desire to deal blows seemed to
pass, although they said much to each other. Finally the friend
returned to his old seat. In a short while the three antagonists could
be seen together in an amiable bunch.
"Jimmie Rogers ses I'll have t' fight him after th' battle t'-day,"
announced the friend as he again seated himself. "He ses he don't
allow no interferin' in his business. I hate t' see th' boys fightin'
The youth laughed. "Yer changed a good bit. Yeh ain't at all like yeh
was. I remember when you an' that Irish feller--" He stopped and
"No, I didn't use t' be that way," said his friend thoughtfully.
"That's true 'nough."
"Well, I didn't mean--" began the youth.
The friend made another deprecatory gesture. "Oh, yeh needn't mind,
There was another little pause.
"Th' reg'ment lost over half th' men yestirday," remarked the friend
eventually. "I thought 'a course they was all dead, but, laws, they
kep' a-comin' back last night until it seems, after all, we didn't lose
but a few. They'd been scattered all over, wanderin' around in th'
woods, fightin' with other reg'ments, an' everything. Jest like you
"So?" said the youth.
The regiment was standing at order arms at the side of a lane, waiting
for the command to march, when suddenly the youth remembered the little
packet enwrapped in a faded yellow envelope which the loud young
soldier with lugubrious words had intrusted to him. It made him start.
He uttered an exclamation and turned toward his comrade.
His friend, at his side in the ranks, was thoughtfully staring down the
road. From some cause his expression was at that moment very meek.
The youth, regarding him with sidelong glances, felt impelled to change
his purpose. "Oh, nothing," he said.
His friend turned his head in some surprise, "Why, what was yeh goin'
"Oh, nothing," repeated the youth.
He resolved not to deal the little blow. It was sufficient that the
fact made him glad. It was not necessary to knock his friend on the
head with the misguided packet.
He had been possessed of much fear of his friend, for he saw how easily
questionings could make holes in his feelings. Lately, he had assured
himself that the altered comrade would not tantalize him with a
persistent curiosity, but he felt certain that during the first period
of leisure his friend would ask him to relate his adventures of the
He now rejoiced in the possession of a small weapon with which he could
prostrate his comrade at the first signs of a cross-examination. He
was master. It would now be he who could laugh and shoot the shafts of
The friend had, in a weak hour, spoken with sobs of his own death. He
had delivered a melancholy oration previous to his funeral, and had
doubtless in the packet of letters, presented various keepsakes to
relatives. But he had not died, and thus he had delivered himself into
the hands of the youth.
The latter felt immensely superior to his friend, but he inclined to
condescension. He adopted toward him an air of patronizing good humor.
His self-pride was now entirely restored. In the shade of its
flourishing growth he stood with braced and self-confident legs, and
since nothing could now be discovered he did not shrink from an
encounter with the eyes of judges, and allowed no thoughts of his own
to keep him from an attitude of manfulness. He had performed his
mistakes in the dark, so he was still a man.
Indeed, when he remembered his fortunes of yesterday, and looked at
them from a distance he began to see something fine there. He had
license to be pompous and veteranlike.
His panting agonies of the past he put out of his sight.
In the present, he declared to himself that it was only the doomed and
the damned who roared with sincerity at circumstance. Few but they
ever did it. A man with a full stomach and the respect of his fellows
had no business to scold about anything that he might think to be wrong
in the ways of the universe, or even with the ways of society. Let the
unfortunates rail; the others may play marbles.
He did not give a great deal of thought to these battles that lay
directly before him. It was not essential that he should plan his ways
in regard to them. He had been taught that many obligations of a life
were easily avoided. The lessons of yesterday had been that
retribution was a laggard and blind. With these facts before him he
did not deem it necessary that he should become feverish over the
possibilities of the ensuing twenty-four hours. He could leave much to
chance. Besides, a faith in himself had secretly blossomed. There was
a little flower of confidence growing within him. He was now a man of
experience. He had been out among the dragons, he said, and he assured
himself that they were not so hideous as he had imagined them. Also,
they were inaccurate; they did not sting with precision. A stout heart
often defied, and defying, escaped.
And, furthermore, how could they kill him who was the chosen of gods
and doomed to greatness?
He remembered how some of the men had run from the battle. As he
recalled their terror-struck faces he felt a scorn for them. They had
surely been more fleet and more wild than was absolutely necessary.
They were weak mortals. As for himself, he had fled with discretion
He was aroused from this reverie by his friend, who, having hitched
about nervously and blinked at the trees for a time, suddenly coughed
in an introductory way, and spoke.
The friend put his hand up to his mouth and coughed again. He fidgeted
in his jacket.
"Well," he gulped at last, "I guess yeh might as well give me back them
letters." Dark, prickling blood had flushed into his cheeks and brow.
"All right, Wilson," said the youth. He loosened two buttons of his
coat, thrust in his hand, and brought forth the packet. As he extended
it to his friend the latter's face was turned from him.
He had been slow in the act of producing the packet because during it
he had been trying to invent a remarkable comment on the affair. He
could conjure up nothing of sufficient point. He was compelled to
allow his friend to escape unmolested with his packet. And for this he
took unto himself considerable credit. It was a generous thing.
His friend at his side seemed suffering great shame. As he
contemplated him, the youth felt his heart grow more strong and stout.
He had never been compelled to blush in such manner for his acts; he
was an individual of extraordinary virtues.
He reflected, with condescending pity: "Too bad! Too bad! The poor
devil, it makes him feel tough!"
After this incident, and as he reviewed the battle pictures he had
seen, he felt quite competent to return home and make the hearts of the
people glow with stories of war. He could see himself in a room of
warm tints telling tales to listeners. He could exhibit laurels. They
were insignificant; still, in a district where laurels were infrequent,
they might shine.
He saw his gaping audience picturing him as the central figure in
blazing scenes. And he imagined the consternation and the ejaculations
of his mother and the young lady at the seminary as they drank his
recitals. Their vague feminine formula for beloved ones doing brave
deeds on the field of battle without risk of life would be destroyed.
A sputtering of musketry was always to be heard. Later, the cannon had
entered the dispute. In the fog-filled air their voices made a
thudding sound. The reverberations were continual. This part of the
world led a strange, battleful existence.
The youth's regiment was marched to relieve a command that had lain
long in some damp trenches. The men took positions behind a curving
line of rifle pits that had been turned up, like a large furrow, along
the line of woods. Before them was a level stretch, peopled with
short, deformed stumps. From the woods beyond came the dull popping of
the skirmishers and pickets, firing in the fog. From the right came
the noise of a terrific fracas.
The men cuddled behind the small embankment and sat in easy attitudes
awaiting their turn. Many had their backs to the firing. The youth's
friend lay down, buried his face in his arms, and almost instantly, it
seemed, he was in a deep sleep.
The youth leaned his breast against the brown dirt and peered over at
the woods and up and down the line. Curtains of trees interfered with
his ways of vision. He could see the low line of trenches but for a
short distance. A few idle flags were perched on the dirt hills.
Behind them were rows of dark bodies with a few heads sticking
curiously over the top.
Always the noise of skirmishers came from the woods on the front and
left, and the din on the right had grown to frightful proportions. The
guns were roaring without an instant's pause for breath. It seemed
that the cannon had come from all parts and were engaged in a
stupendous wrangle. It became impossible to make a sentence heard.
The youth wished to launch a joke--a quotation from newspapers. He
desired to say, "All quiet on the Rappahannock," but the guns refused
to permit even a comment upon their uproar. He never successfully
concluded the sentence. But at last the guns stopped, and among the
men in the rifle pits rumors again flew, like birds, but they were now
for the most part black creatures who flapped their wings drearily
near to the ground and refused to rise on any wings of hope. The men's
faces grew doleful from the interpreting of omens. Tales of hesitation
and uncertainty on the part of those high in place and responsibility
came to their ears. Stories of disaster were borne into their minds
with many proofs. This din of musketry on the right, growing like a
released genie of sound, expressed and emphasized the army's plight.
The men were disheartened and began to mutter. They made gestures
expressive of the sentence: "Ah, what more can we do?" And it could
always be seen that they were bewildered by the alleged news and could
not fully comprehend a defeat.
Before the gray mists had been totally obliterated by the sun rays, the
regiment was marching in a spread column that was retiring carefully
through the woods. The disordered, hurrying lines of the enemy could
sometimes be seen down through the groves and little fields. They were
yelling, shrill and exultant.
At this sight the youth forgot many personal matters and became greatly
enraged. He exploded in loud sentences. "B'jiminey, we're generaled
by a lot 'a lunkheads."
"More than one feller has said that t'-day," observed a man.
His friend, recently aroused, was still very drowsy. He looked behind
him until his mind took in the meaning of the movement. Then he
sighed. "Oh, well, I s'pose we got licked," he remarked sadly.
The youth had a thought that it would not be handsome for him to freely
condemn other men. He made an attempt to restrain himself, but the
words upon his tongue were too bitter. He presently began a long and
intricate denunciation of the commander of the forces.
"Mebbe, it wa'n't all his fault--not all together. He did th' best he
knowed. It's our luck t' git licked often," said his friend in a weary
tone. He was trudging along with stooped shoulders and shifting eyes
like a man who has been caned and kicked.
"Well, don't we fight like the devil? Don't we do all that men can?"
demanded the youth loudly.
He was secretly dumfounded at this sentiment when it came from his
lips. For a moment his face lost its valor and he looked guiltily
about him. But no one questioned his right to deal in such words, and
presently he recovered his air of courage. He went on to repeat a
statement he had heard going from group to group at the camp that
morning. "The brigadier said he never saw a new reg'ment fight the way
we fought yestirday, didn't he? And we didn't do better than many
another reg'ment, did we? Well, then, you can't say it's th' army's
fault, can you?"
In his reply, the friend's voice was stern. "'A course not," he said.
"No man dare say we don't fight like th' devil. No man will ever dare
say it. Th' boys fight like hell-roosters. But still--still, we don't
have no luck."
"Well, then, if we fight like the devil an' don't ever whip, it must be
the general's fault," said the youth grandly and decisively. "And I
don't see any sense in fighting and fighting and fighting, yet always
losing through some derned old lunkhead of a general."
A sarcastic man who was tramping at the youth's side, then spoke
lazily. "Mebbe yeh think yeh fit th' hull battle yestirday, Fleming,"
The speech pierced the youth. Inwardly he was reduced to an abject
pulp by these chance words. His legs quaked privately. He cast a
frightened glance at the sarcastic man.
"Why, no," he hastened to say in a conciliating voice "I don't think I
fought the whole battle yesterday."
But the other seemed innocent of any deeper meaning. Apparently, he
had no information. It was merely his habit. "Oh!" he replied in the
same tone of calm derision.
The youth, nevertheless, felt a threat. His mind shrank from going
near to the danger, and thereafter he was silent. The significance of
the sarcastic man's words took from him all loud moods that would make
him appear prominent. He became suddenly a modest person.
There was low-toned talk among the troops. The officers were impatient
and snappy, their countenances clouded with the tales of misfortune.
The troops, sifting through the forest, were sullen. In the youth's
company once a man's laugh rang out. A dozen soldiers turned their
faces quickly toward him and frowned with vague displeasure.
The noise of firing dogged their footsteps. Sometimes, it seemed to be
driven a little way, but it always returned again with increased
insolence. The men muttered and cursed, throwing black looks in its
In a clear space the troops were at last halted. Regiments and
brigades, broken and detached through their encounters with thickets,
grew together again and lines were faced toward the pursuing bark of
the enemy's infantry.
This noise, following like the yelpings of eager, metallic hounds,
increased to a loud and joyous burst, and then, as the sun went
serenely up the sky, throwing illuminating rays into the gloomy
thickets, it broke forth into prolonged pealings. The woods began to
crackle as if afire.
"Whoop-a-dadee," said a man, "here we are! Everybody fightin'. Blood
"I was willin' t' bet they'd attack as soon as th' sun got fairly up,"
savagely asserted the lieutenant who commanded the youth's company. He
jerked without mercy at his little mustache. He strode to and fro with
dark dignity in the rear of his men, who were lying down behind
whatever protection they had collected.
A battery had trundled into position in the rear and was thoughtfully
shelling the distance. The regiment, unmolested as yet, awaited the
moment when the gray shadows of the woods before them should be slashed
by the lines of flame. There was much growling and swearing.
"Good Gawd," the youth grumbled, "we're always being chased around like
rats! It makes me sick. Nobody seems to know where we go or why we
go. We just get fired around from pillar to post and get licked here
and get licked there, and nobody knows what it's done for. It makes a
man feel like a damn' kitten in a bag. Now, I'd like to know what the
eternal thunders we was marched into these woods for anyhow, unless it
was to give the rebs a regular pot shot at us. We came in here and got
our legs all tangled up in these cussed briers, and then we begin to
fight and the rebs had an easy time of it. Don't tell me it's just
luck! I know better. It's this derned old--"
The friend seemed jaded, but he interrupted his comrade with a voice of
calm confidence. "It'll turn out all right in th' end," he said.
"Oh, the devil it will! You always talk like a dog-hanged parson.
Don't tell me! I know--"
At this time there was an interposition by the savage-minded
lieutenant, who was obliged to vent some of his inward dissatisfaction
upon his men. "You boys shut right up! There no need 'a your wastin'
your breath in long-winded arguments about this an' that an' th' other.
You've been jawin' like a lot 'a old hens. All you've got t' do is to
fight, an' you'll get plenty 'a that t' do in about ten minutes. Less
talkin' an' more fightin' is what's best for you boys. I never saw
sech gabbling jackasses."
He paused, ready to pounce upon any man who might have the temerity to
reply. No words being said, he resumed his dignified pacing.
"There's too much chin music an' too little fightin' in this war,
anyhow," he said to them, turning his head for a final remark.
The day had grown more white, until the sun shed his full radiance upon
the thronged forest. A sort of a gust of battle came sweeping toward
that part of the line where lay the youth's regiment. The front
shifted a trifle to meet it squarely. There was a wait. In this part
of the field there passed slowly the intense moments that precede the
A single rifle flashed in a thicket before the regiment. In an instant
it was joined by many others. There was a mighty song of clashes and
crashes that went sweeping through the woods. The guns in the rear,
aroused and enraged by shells that had been thrown burr-like at them,
suddenly involved themselves in a hideous altercation with another band
of guns. The battle roar settled to a rolling thunder, which was a
single, long explosion.
In the regiment there was a peculiar kind of hesitation denoted in the
attitudes of the men. They were worn, exhausted, having slept but
little and labored much. They rolled their eyes toward the advancing
battle as they stood awaiting the shock. Some shrank and flinched.
They stood as men tied to stakes.
This advance of the enemy had seemed to the youth like a ruthless
hunting. He began to fume with rage and exasperation. He beat his foot
upon the ground, and scowled with hate at the swirling smoke that was
approaching like a phantom flood. There was a maddening quality in
this seeming resolution of the foe to give him no rest, to give him no
time to sit down and think. Yesterday he had fought and had fled
rapidly. There had been many adventures. For to-day he felt that he
had earned opportunities for contemplative repose. He could have
enjoyed portraying to uninitiated listeners various scenes at which he
had been a witness or ably discussing the processes of war with other
proved men. Too it was important that he should have time for physical
recuperation. He was sore and stiff from his experiences. He had
received his fill of all exertions, and he wished to rest.
But those other men seemed never to grow weary; they were fighting with
their old speed. He had a wild hate for the relentless foe.
Yesterday, when he had imagined the universe to be against him, he had
hated it, little gods and big gods; to-day he hated the army of the foe
with the same great hatred. He was not going to be badgered of his
life, like a kitten chased by boys, he said. It was not well to drive
men into final corners; at those moments they could all develop teeth
He leaned and spoke into his friend's ear. He menaced the woods with a
gesture. "If they keep on chasing us, by Gawd, they'd better watch
out. Can't stand TOO much."
The friend twisted his head and made a calm reply. "If they keep on
a-chasin' us they'll drive us all inteh th' river."
The youth cried out savagely at this statement. He crouched behind a
little tree, with his eyes burning hatefully and his teeth set in a
curlike snarl. The awkward bandage was still about his head, and upon
it, over his wound, there was a spot of dry blood. His hair was
wondrously tousled, and some straggling, moving locks hung over the
cloth of the bandage down toward his forehead. His jacket and shirt
were open at the throat, and exposed his young bronzed neck. There
could be seen spasmodic gulpings at his throat.
His fingers twined nervously about his rifle. He wished that it was an
engine of annihilating power. He felt that he and his companions were
being taunted and derided from sincere convictions that they were poor
and puny. His knowledge of his inability to take vengeance for it made
his rage into a dark and stormy specter, that possessed him and made
him dream of abominable cruelties. The tormentors were flies sucking
insolently at his blood, and he thought that he would have given his
life for a revenge of seeing their faces in pitiful plights.
The winds of battle had swept all about the regiment, until the one
rifle, instantly followed by others, flashed in its front. A moment
later the regiment roared forth its sudden and valiant retort. A dense
wall of smoke settled down. It was furiously slit and slashed by the
knifelike fire from the rifles.
To the youth the fighters resembled animals tossed for a death struggle
into a dark pit. There was a sensation that he and his fellows, at
bay, were pushing back, always pushing fierce onslaughts of creatures
who were slippery. Their beams of crimson seemed to get no purchase
upon the bodies of their foes; the latter seemed to evade them with
ease, and come through, between, around, and about with unopposed skill.
When, in a dream, it occurred to the youth that his rifle was an
impotent stick, he lost sense of everything but his hate, his desire to
smash into pulp the glittering smile of victory which he could feel
upon the faces of his enemies.
The blue smoke-swallowed line curled and writhed like a snake stepped
upon. It swung its ends to and fro in an agony of fear and rage.
The youth was not conscious that he was erect upon his feet. He did
not know the direction of the ground. Indeed, once he even lost the
habit of balance and fell heavily. He was up again immediately. One
thought went through the chaos of his brain at the time. He wondered
if he had fallen because he had been shot. But the suspicion flew away
at once. He did not think more of it.
He had taken up a first position behind the little tree, with a direct
determination to hold it against the world. He had not deemed it
possible that his army could that day succeed, and from this he felt
the ability to fight harder. But the throng had surged in all ways,
until he lost directions and locations, save that he knew where lay the
The flames bit him, and the hot smoke broiled his skin. His rifle
barrel grew so hot that ordinarily he could not have borne it upon his
palms; but he kept on stuffing cartridges into it, and pounding them
with his clanking, bending ramrod. If he aimed at some changing form
through the smoke, he pulled the trigger with a fierce grunt, as if he
were dealing a blow of the fist with all his strength.
When the enemy seemed falling back before him and his fellows, he went
instantly forward, like a dog who, seeing his foes lagging, turns and
insists upon being pursued. And when he was compelled to retire again,
he did it slowly, sullenly, taking steps of wrathful despair.
Once he, in his intent hate, was almost alone, and was firing, when all
those near him had ceased. He was so engrossed in his occupation that
he was not aware of a lull.
He was recalled by a hoarse laugh and a sentence that came to his ears
in a voice of contempt and amazement. "Yeh infernal fool, don't yeh
know enough t' quit when there ain't anything t' shoot at? Good Gawd!"
He turned then and, pausing with his rifle thrown half into position,
looked at the blue line of his comrades. During this moment of leisure
they seemed all to be engaged in staring with astonishment at him.
They had become spectators. Turning to the front again he saw, under
the lifted smoke, a deserted ground.
He looked bewildered for a moment. Then there appeared upon the glazed
vacancy of his eyes a diamond point of intelligence. "Oh," he said,
He returned to his comrades and threw himself upon the ground. He
sprawled like a man who had been thrashed. His flesh seemed strangely
on fire, and the sounds of the battle continued in his ears. He groped
blindly for his canteen.
The lieutenant was crowing. He seemed drunk with fighting. He called
out to the youth: "By heavens, if I had ten thousand wild cats like
you I could tear th' stomach outa this war in less'n a week!" He puffed
out his chest with large dignity as he said it.
Some of the men muttered and looked at the youth in awestruck ways. It
was plain that as he had gone on loading and firing and cursing without
proper intermission, they had found time to regard him. And they now
looked upon him as a war devil.
The friend came staggering to him. There was some fright and dismay in
his voice. "Are yeh all right, Fleming? Do yeh feel all right? There
ain't nothin' th' matter with yeh, Henry, is there?"
"No," said the youth with difficulty. His throat seemed full of knobs
These incidents made the youth ponder. It was revealed to him that he
had been a barbarian, a beast. He had fought like a pagan who defends
his religion. Regarding it, he saw that it was fine, wild, and, in
some ways, easy. He had been a tremendous figure, no doubt. By this
struggle he had overcome obstacles which he had admitted to be
mountains. They had fallen like paper peaks, and he was now what he
called a hero. And he had not been aware of the process. He had
slept, and, awakening, found himself a knight.
He lay and basked in the occasional stares of his comrades. Their
faces were varied in degrees of blackness from the burned powder. Some
were utterly smudged. They were reeking with perspiration, and their
breaths came hard and wheezing. And from these soiled expanses they
peered at him.
"Hot work! Hot work!" cried the lieutenant deliriously. He walked up
and down, restless and eager. Sometimes his voice could be heard in a
wild, incomprehensible laugh.
When he had a particularly profound thought upon the science of war he
always unconsciously addressed himself to the youth.
There was some grim rejoicing by the men. "By thunder, I bet this
army'll never see another new reg'ment like us!"
"A dog, a woman, an' a walnut tree
Th' more yeh beat 'em, th' better they be!
That's like us."
"Lost a piler men, they did. If an ol' woman swep' up th' woods she'd
git a dustpanful."
"Yes, an' if she'll come around ag'in in 'bout an hour she'll get a
The forest still bore its burden of clamor. From off under the trees
came the rolling clatter of the musketry. Each distant thicket seemed
a strange porcupine with quills of flame. A cloud of dark smoke, as
from smoldering ruins, went up toward the sun now bright and gay in the
blue, enameled sky.
The ragged line had respite for some minutes, but during its pause the
struggle in the forest became magnified until the trees seemed to
quiver from the firing and the ground to shake from the rushing of men.
The voices of the cannon were mingled in a long and interminable row.
It seemed difficult to live in such an atmosphere. The chests of the
men strained for a bit of freshness, and their throats craved water.
There was one shot through the body, who raised a cry of bitter
lamentation when came this lull. Perhaps he had been calling out
during the fighting also, but at that time no one had heard him. But
now the men turned at the woeful complaints of him upon the ground.
"Who is it? Who is it?"
"Its Jimmie Rogers. Jimmie Rogers."
When their eyes first encountered him there was a sudden halt, as if
they feared to go near. He was thrashing about in the grass, twisting
his shuddering body into many strange postures. He was screaming
loudly. This instant's hesitation seemed to fill him with a
tremendous, fantastic contempt, and he damned them in shrieked
The youth's friend had a geographical illusion concerning a stream, and
he obtained permission to go for some water. Immediately canteens were
showered upon him. "Fill mine, will yeh?" "Bring me some, too." "And
me, too." He departed, ladened. The youth went with his friend,
feeling a desire to throw his heated body into the stream and, soaking
there, drink quarts.
They made a hurried search for the supposed stream, but did not find
it. "No water here," said the youth. They turned without delay and
began to retrace their steps.
From their position as they again faced toward the place of the
fighting, they could comprehend a greater amount of the battle than
when their visions had been blurred by the hurling smoke of the line.
They could see dark stretches winding along the land, and on one
cleared space there was a row of guns making gray clouds, which were
filled with large flashes of orange-colored flame. Over some foliage
they could see the roof of a house. One window, glowing a deep murder
red, shone squarely through the leaves. From the edifice a tall
leaning tower of smoke went far into the sky.
Looking over their own troops, they saw mixed masses slowly getting
into regular form. The sunlight made twinkling points of the bright
steel. To the rear there was a glimpse of a distant roadway as it
curved over a slope. It was crowded with retreating infantry. From
all the interwoven forest arose the smoke and bluster of the battle.
The air was always occupied by a blaring.
Near where they stood shells were flip-flapping and hooting.
Occasional bullets buzzed in the air and spanged into tree trunks.
Wounded men and other stragglers were slinking through the woods.
Looking down an aisle of the grove, the youth and his companion saw a
jangling general and his staff almost ride upon a wounded man, who was
crawling on his hands and knees. The general reined strongly at his
charger's opened and foamy mouth and guided it with dexterous
horsemanship past the man. The latter scrambled in wild and torturing
haste. His strength evidently failed him as he reached a place of
safety. One of his arms suddenly weakened, and he fell, sliding over
upon his back. He lay stretched out, breathing gently.
A moment later the small, creaking cavalcade was directly in front of
the two soldiers. Another officer, riding with the skillful abandon of
a cowboy, galloped his horse to a position directly before the general.
The two unnoticed foot soldiers made a little show of going on, but
they lingered near in the desire to overhear the conversation.
Perhaps, they thought, some great inner historical things would be said.
The general, whom the boys knew as the commander of their division,
looked at the other officer and spoke coolly, as if he were criticising
his clothes. "Th' enemy's formin' over there for another charge," he
said. "It'll be directed against Whiterside, an' I fear they'll break
through unless we work like thunder t' stop them."
The other swore at his restive horse, and then cleared his throat. He
made a gesture toward his cap. "It'll be hell t' pay stoppin' them,"
he said shortly.
"I presume so," remarked the general. Then he began to talk rapidly
and in a lower tone. He frequently illustrated his words with a
pointing finger. The two infantrymen could hear nothing until finally
he asked: "What troops can you spare?"
The officer who rode like a cowboy reflected for an instant. "Well,"
he said, "I had to order in th' 12th to help th' 76th, an' I haven't
really got any. But there's th' 304th. They fight like a lot 'a mule
drivers. I can spare them best of any."
The youth and his friend exchanged glances of astonishment.
The general spoke sharply. "Get 'em ready, then. I'll watch
developments from here, an' send you word when t' start them. It'll
happen in five minutes."
As the other officer tossed his fingers toward his cap and wheeling his
horse, started away, the general called out to him in a sober voice:
"I don't believe many of your mule drivers will get back."
The other shouted something in reply. He smiled.
With scared faces, the youth and his companion hurried back to the line.
These happenings had occupied an incredibly short time, yet the youth
felt that in them he had been made aged. New eyes were given to him.
And the most startling thing was to learn suddenly that he was very
insignificant. The officer spoke of the regiment as if he referred to
a broom. Some part of the woods needed sweeping, perhaps, and he
merely indicated a broom in a tone properly indifferent to its fate.
It was war, no doubt, but it appeared strange.
As the two boys approached the line, the lieutenant perceived them and
swelled with wrath. "Fleming--Wilson--how long does it take yeh to git
water, anyhow--where yeh been to."
But his oration ceased as he saw their eyes, which were large with
great tales. "We're goin' t' charge--we're goin' t' charge!" cried the
youth's friend, hastening with his news.
"Charge?" said the lieutenant. "Charge? Well, b'Gawd! Now, this is
real fightin'." Over his soiled countenance there went a boastful
smile. "Charge? Well, b'Gawd!"
A little group of soldiers surrounded the two youths. "Are we, sure
'nough? Well, I'll be derned! Charge? What fer? What at? Wilson,
"I hope to die," said the youth, pitching his tones to the key of angry
remonstrance. "Sure as shooting, I tell you."
And his friend spoke in re-enforcement. "Not by a blame sight, he
ain't lyin'. We heard 'em talkin'."
They caught sight of two mounted figures a short distance from them.
One was the colonel of the regiment and the other was the officer who
had received orders from the commander of the division. They were
gesticulating at each other. The soldier, pointing at them,
interpreted the scene.
One man had a final objection: "How could yeh hear 'em talkin'?" But
the men, for a large part, nodded, admitting that previously the two
friends had spoken truth.
They settled back into reposeful attitudes with airs of having accepted
the matter. And they mused upon it, with a hundred varieties of
expression. It was an engrossing thing to think about. Many tightened
their belts carefully and hitched at their trousers.
A moment later the officers began to bustle among the men, pushing them
into a more compact mass and into a better alignment. They chased
those that straggled and fumed at a few men who seemed to show by their
attitudes that they had decided to remain at that spot. They were like
critical shepherds, struggling with sheep.
Presently, the regiment seemed to draw itself up and heave a deep
breath. None of the men's faces were mirrors of large thoughts. The
soldiers were bended and stooped like sprinters before a signal. Many
pairs of glinting eyes peered from the grimy faces toward the curtains
of the deeper woods. They seemed to be engaged in deep calculations of
time and distance.
They were surrounded by the noises of the monstrous altercation between
the two armies. The world was fully interested in other matters.
Apparently, the regiment had its small affair to itself.
The youth, turning, shot a quick, inquiring glance at his friend. The
latter returned to him the same manner of look. They were the only
ones who possessed an inner knowledge. "Mule drivers--hell t'
pay--don't believe many will get back." It was an ironical secret.
Still, they saw no hesitation in each other's faces, and they nodded a
mute and unprotesting assent when a shaggy man near them said in a meek
voice: "We'll git swallowed."
The youth stared at the land in front of him. Its foliages now seemed
to veil powers and horrors. He was unaware of the machinery of orders
that started the charge, although from the corners of his eyes he saw
an officer, who looked like a boy a-horseback, come galloping, waving
his hat. Suddenly he felt a straining and heaving among the men. The
line fell slowly forward like a toppling wall, and, with a convulsive
gasp that was intended for a cheer, the regiment began its journey.
The youth was pushed and jostled for a moment before he understood the
movement at all, but directly he lunged ahead and began to run.
He fixed his eye upon a distant and prominent clump of trees where he
had concluded the enemy were to be met, and he ran toward it as toward
a goal. He had believed throughout that it was a mere question of
getting over an unpleasant matter as quickly as possible, and he ran
desperately, as if pursued for a murder. His face was drawn hard and
tight with the stress of his endeavor. His eyes were fixed in a lurid
glare. And with his soiled and disordered dress, his red and inflamed
features surmounted by the dingy rag with its spot of blood, his wildly
swinging rifle, and banging accouterments, he looked to be an insane
As the regiment swung from its position out into a cleared space the
woods and thickets before it awakened. Yellow flames leaped toward it
from many directions. The forest made a tremendous objection.
The line lurched straight for a moment. Then the right wing swung
forward; it in turn was surpassed by the left. Afterward the center
careered to the front until the regiment was a wedge-shaped mass, but
an instant later the opposition of the bushes, trees, and uneven places
on the ground split the command and scattered it into detached clusters.
The youth, light-footed, was unconsciously in advance. His eyes still
kept note of the clump of trees. From all places near it the clannish
yell of the enemy could be heard. The little flames of rifles leaped
from it. The song of the bullets was in the air and shells snarled
among the treetops. One tumbled directly into the middle of a hurrying
group and exploded in crimson fury. There was an instant spectacle of
a man, almost over it, throwing up his hands to shield his eyes.
Other men, punched by bullets, fell in grotesque agonies. The regiment
left a coherent trail of bodies.
They had passed into a clearer atmosphere. There was an effect like a
revelation in the new appearance of the landscape. Some men working
madly at a battery were plain to them, and the opposing infantry's
lines were defined by the gray walls and fringes of smoke.
It seemed to the youth that he saw everything. Each blade of the green
grass was bold and clear. He thought that he was aware of every change
in the thin, transparent vapor that floated idly in sheets. The brown
or gray trunks of the trees showed each roughness of their surfaces.
And the men of the regiment, with their starting eyes and sweating
faces, running madly, or falling, as if thrown headlong, to queer,
heaped-up corpses--all were comprehended. His mind took a mechanical
but firm impression, so that afterward everything was pictured and
explained to him, save why he himself was there.
But there was a frenzy made from this furious rush. The men, pitching
forward insanely, had burst into cheerings, moblike and barbaric, but
tuned in strange keys that can arouse the dullard and the stoic. It
made a mad enthusiasm that, it seemed, would be incapable of checking
itself before granite and brass. There was the delirium that
encounters despair and death, and is heedless and blind to the odds.
It is a temporary but sublime absence of selfishness. And because it
was of this order was the reason, perhaps, why the youth wondered,
afterward, what reasons he could have had for being there.
Presently the straining pace ate up the energies of the men. As if by
agreement, the leaders began to slacken their speed. The volleys
directed against them had had a seeming windlike effect. The regiment
snorted and blew. Among some stolid trees it began to falter and
hesitate. The men, staring intently, began to wait for some of the
distant walls of smoke to move and disclose to them the scene. Since
much of their strength and their breath had vanished, they returned to
caution. They were become men again.
The youth had a vague belief that he had run miles, and he thought, in
a way, that he was now in some new and unknown land.
The moment the regiment ceased its advance the protesting splutter of
musketry became a steadied roar. Long and accurate fringes of smoke
spread out. From the top of a small hill came level belchings of
yellow flame that caused an inhuman whistling in the air.
The men, halted, had opportunity to see some of their comrades dropping
with moans and shrieks. A few lay under foot, still or wailing. And
now for an instant the men stood, their rifles slack in their hands,
and watched the regiment dwindle. They appeared dazed and stupid.
This spectacle seemed to paralyze them, overcome them with a fatal
fascination. They stared woodenly at the sights, and, lowering their
eyes, looked from face to face. It was a strange pause, and a strange
Then, above the sounds of the outside commotion, arose the roar of the
lieutenant. He strode suddenly forth, his infantile features black
"Come on, yeh fools!" he bellowed. "Come on! Yeh can't stay here.
Yeh must come on." He said more, but much of it could not be
He started rapidly forward, with his head turned toward the men, "Come
on," he was shouting. The men stared with blank and yokel-like eyes at
him. He was obliged to halt and retrace his steps. He stood then with
his back to the enemy and delivered gigantic curses into the faces of
the men. His body vibrated from the weight and force of his
imprecations. And he could string oaths with the facility of a maiden
who strings beads.
The friend of the youth aroused. Lurching suddenly forward and
dropping to his knees, he fired an angry shot at the persistent woods.
This action awakened the men. They huddled no more like sheep. They
seemed suddenly to bethink themselves of their weapons, and at once
commenced firing. Belabored by their officers, they began to move
forward. The regiment, involved like a cart involved in mud and
muddle, started unevenly with many jolts and jerks. The men stopped
now every few paces to fire and load, and in this manner moved slowly
on from trees to trees.
The flaming opposition in their front grew with their advance until it
seemed that all forward ways were barred by the thin leaping tongues,
and off to the right an ominous demonstration could sometimes be dimly
discerned. The smoke lately generated was in confusing clouds that
made it difficult for the regiment to proceed with intelligence. As he
passed through each curling mass the youth wondered what would confront
him on the farther side.
The command went painfully forward until an open space interposed
between them and the lurid lines. Here, crouching and cowering behind
some trees, the men clung with desperation, as if threatened by a wave.
They looked wild-eyed, and as if amazed at this furious disturbance
they had stirred. In the storm there was an ironical expression of
their importance. The faces of the men, too, showed a lack of a
certain feeling of responsibility for being there. It was as if they
had been driven. It was the dominant animal failing to remember in the
supreme moments the forceful causes of various superficial qualities.
The whole affair seemed incomprehensible to many of them.
As they halted thus the lieutenant again began to bellow profanely.
Regardless of the vindictive threats of the bullets, he went about
coaxing, berating, and bedamning. His lips, that were habitually in a
soft and childlike curve, were now writhed into unholy contortions. He
swore by all possible deities.
Once he grabbed the youth by the arm. "Come on, yeh lunkhead!" he
roared. "Come on! We'll all git killed if we stay here. We've on'y
got t' go across that lot. An' then"--the remainder of his idea
disappeared in a blue haze of curses.
The youth stretched forth his arm. "Cross there?" His mouth was
puckered in doubt and awe.
"Certainly. Jest 'cross th' lot! We can't stay here," screamed the
lieutenant. He poked his face close to the youth and waved his
bandaged hand. "Come on!" Presently he grappled with him as if for a
wrestling bout. It was as if he planned to drag the youth by the ear
on to the assault.
The private felt a sudden unspeakable indignation against his officer.
He wrenched fiercely and shook him off.
"Come on yerself, then," he yelled. There was a bitter challenge in
They galloped together down the regimental front. The friend scrambled
after them. In front of the colors the three men began to bawl: "Come
on! come on!" They danced and gyrated like tortured savages.
The flag, obedient to these appeals, bended its glittering form and
swept toward them. The men wavered in indecision for a moment, and
then with a long, wailful cry the dilapidated regiment surged forward
and began its new journey.
Over the field went the scurrying mass. It was a handful of men
splattered into the faces of the enemy. Toward it instantly sprang the
yellow tongues. A vast quantity of blue smoke hung before them. A
mighty banging made ears valueless.
The youth ran like a madman to reach the woods before a bullet could
discover him. He ducked his head low, like a football player. In his
haste his eyes almost closed, and the scene was a wild blur. Pulsating
saliva stood at the corners of his mouth.
Within him, as he hurled himself forward, was born a love, a despairing
fondness for this flag which was near him. It was a creation of beauty
and invulnerability. It was a goddess, radiant, that bended its form
with an imperious gesture to him. It was a woman, red and white,
hating and loving, that called him with the voice of his hopes.
Because no harm could come to it he endowed it with power. He kept
near, as if it could be a saver of lives, and an imploring cry went
from his mind.
In the mad scramble he was aware that the color sergeant flinched
suddenly, as if struck by a bludgeon. He faltered, and then became
motionless, save for his quivering knees. He made a spring and a
clutch at the pole. At the same instant his friend grabbed it from the
other side. They jerked at it, stout and furious, but the color
sergeant was dead, and the corpse would not relinquish its trust. For
a moment there was a grim encounter. The dead man, swinging with
bended back, seemed to be obstinately tugging, in ludicrous and awful
ways, for the possession of the flag.
It was past in an instant of time. They wrenched the flag furiously
from the dead man, and, as they turned again, the corpse swayed forward
with bowed head. One arm swung high, and the curved hand fell with
heavy protest on the friend's unheeding shoulder.
When the two youths turned with the flag they saw that much of the
regiment had crumbled away, and the dejected remnant was coming slowly
back. The men, having hurled themselves in projectile fashion, had
presently expended their forces. They slowly retreated, with their
faces still toward the spluttering woods, and their hot rifles still
replying to the din. Several officers were giving orders, their voices
keyed to screams.
"Where in hell yeh goin'?" the lieutenant was asking in a sarcastic
howl. And a red-bearded officer, whose voice of triple brass could
plainly be heard, was commanding: "Shoot into 'em! Shoot into 'em,
Gawd damn their souls!" There was a melee of screeches, in which the
men were ordered to do conflicting and impossible things.
The youth and his friend had a small scuffle over the flag. "Give it
t' me!" "No, let me keep it!" Each felt satisfied with the other's
possession of it, but each felt bound to declare, by an offer to carry
the emblem, his willingness to further risk himself. The youth roughly
pushed his friend away.
The regiment fell back to the stolid trees. There it halted for a
moment to blaze at some dark forms that had begun to steal upon its
track. Presently it resumed its march again, curving among the tree
trunks. By the time the depleted regiment had again reached the first
open space they were receiving a fast and merciless fire. There seemed
to be mobs all about them.
The greater part of the men, discouraged, their spirits worn by the
turmoil, acted as if stunned. They accepted the pelting of the bullets
with bowed and weary heads. It was of no purpose to strive against
walls. It was of no use to batter themselves against granite. And
from this consciousness that they had attempted to conquer an
unconquerable thing there seemed to arise a feeling that they had been
betrayed. They glowered with bent brows, but dangerously, upon some of
the officers, more particularly upon the red-bearded one with the voice
of triple brass.
However, the rear of the regiment was fringed with men, who continued
to shoot irritably at the advancing foes. They seemed resolved to make
every trouble. The youthful lieutenant was perhaps the last man in the
disordered mass. His forgotten back was toward the enemy. He had been
shot in the arm. It hung straight and rigid. Occasionally he would
cease to remember it, and be about to emphasize an oath with a sweeping
gesture. The multiplied pain caused him to swear with incredible power.
The youth went along with slipping uncertain feet. He kept watchful
eyes rearward. A scowl of mortification and rage was upon his face.
He had thought of a fine revenge upon the officer who had referred to
him and his fellows as mule drivers. But he saw that it could not come
to pass. His dreams had collapsed when the mule drivers, dwindling
rapidly, had wavered and hesitated on the little clearing, and then had
recoiled. And now the retreat of the mule drivers was a march of shame
A dagger-pointed gaze from without his blackened face was held toward
the enemy, but his greater hatred was riveted upon the man, who, not
knowing him, had called him a mule driver.
When he knew that he and his comrades had failed to do anything in
successful ways that might bring the little pangs of a kind of remorse
upon the officer, the youth allowed the rage of the baffled to possess
him. This cold officer upon a monument, who dropped epithets
unconcernedly down, would be finer as a dead man, he thought. So
grievous did he think it that he could never possess the secret right
to taunt truly in answer.
He had pictured red letters of curious revenge. "We ARE mule drivers,
are we?" And now he was compelled to throw them away.
He presently wrapped his heart in the cloak of his pride and kept the
flag erect. He harangued his fellows, pushing against their chests
with his free hand. To those he knew well he made frantic appeals,
beseeching them by name. Between him and the lieutenant, scolding and
near to losing his mind with rage, there was felt a subtle fellowship
and equality. They supported each other in all manner of hoarse,
But the regiment was a machine run down. The two men babbled at a
forceless thing. The soldiers who had heart to go slowly were
continually shaken in their resolves by a knowledge that comrades were
slipping with speed back to the lines. It was difficult to think of
reputation when others were thinking of skins. Wounded men were left
crying on this black journey.
The smoke fringes and flames blustered always. The youth, peering once
through a sudden rift in a cloud, saw a brown mass of troops,
interwoven and magnified until they appeared to be thousands. A
fierce-hued flag flashed before his vision.
Immediately, as if the uplifting of the smoke had been prearranged, the
discovered troops burst into a rasping yell, and a hundred flames
jetted toward the retreating band. A rolling gray cloud again
interposed as the regiment doggedly replied. The youth had to depend
again upon his misused ears, which were trembling and buzzing from the
melee of musketry and yells.
The way seemed eternal. In the clouded haze men became panic-stricken
with the thought that the regiment had lost its path, and was
proceeding in a perilous direction. Once the men who headed the wild
procession turned and came pushing back against their comrades,
screaming that they were being fired upon from points which they had
considered to be toward their own lines. At this cry a hysterical fear
and dismay beset the troops. A soldier, who heretofore had been
ambitious to make the regiment into a wise little band that would
proceed calmly amid the huge-appearing difficulties, suddenly sank down
and buried his face in his arms with an air of bowing to a doom. From
another a shrill lamentation rang out filled with profane allusions to
a general. Men ran hither and thither, seeking with their eyes roads
of escape. With serene regularity, as if controlled by a schedule,
bullets buffed into men.
The youth walked stolidly into the midst of the mob, and with his flag
in his hands took a stand as if he expected an attempt to push him to
the ground. He unconsciously assumed the attitude of the color bearer
in the fight of the preceding day. He passed over his brow a hand that
trembled. His breath did not come freely. He was choking during this
small wait for the crisis.
His friend came to him. "Well, Henry, I guess this is good-by-John."
"Oh, shut up, you damned fool!" replied the youth, and he would not
look at the other.
The officers labored like politicians to beat the mass into a proper
circle to face the menaces. The ground was uneven and torn. The men
curled into depressions and fitted themselves snugly behind whatever
would frustrate a bullet. The youth noted with vague surprise that the
lieutenant was standing mutely with his legs far apart and his sword
held in the manner of a cane. The youth wondered what had happened to
his vocal organs that he no more cursed.
There was something curious in this little intent pause of the
lieutenant. He was like a babe which, having wept its fill, raises its
eyes and fixes upon a distant toy. He was engrossed in this
contemplation, and the soft under lip quivered from self-whispered
Some lazy and ignorant smoke curled slowly. The men, hiding from the
bullets, waited anxiously for it to lift and disclose the plight of the
The silent ranks were suddenly thrilled by the eager voice of the
youthful lieutenant bawling out: "Here they come! Right onto us,
b'Gawd!" His further words were lost in a roar of wicked thunder from
the men's rifles.
The youth's eyes had instantly turned in the direction indicated by the
awakened and agitated lieutenant, and he had seen the haze of treachery
disclosing a body of soldiers of the enemy. They were so near that he
could see their features. There was a recognition as he looked at the
types of faces. Also he perceived with dim amazement that their
uniforms were rather gay in effect, being light gray, accented with a
brilliant-hued facing. Too, the clothes seemed new.
These troops had apparently been going forward with caution, their
rifles held in readiness, when the youthful lieutenant had discovered
them and their movement had been interrupted by the volley from the
blue regiment. From the moment's glimpse, it was derived that they had
been unaware of the proximity of their dark-suited foes or had mistaken
the direction. Almost instantly they were shut utterly from the
youth's sight by the smoke from the energetic rifles of his companions.
He strained his vision to learn the accomplishment of the volley, but
the smoke hung before him.
The two bodies of troops exchanged blows in the manner of a pair of
boxers. The fast angry firings went back and forth. The men in blue
were intent with the despair of their circumstances and they seized
upon the revenge to be had at close range. Their thunder swelled loud
and valiant. Their curving front bristled with flashes and the place
resounded with the clangor of their ramrods. The youth ducked and
dodged for a time and achieved a few unsatisfactory views of the enemy.
There appeared to be many of them and they were replying swiftly. They
seemed moving toward the blue regiment, step by step. He seated
himself gloomily on the ground with his flag between his knees.
As he noted the vicious, wolflike temper of his comrades he had a sweet
thought that if the enemy was about to swallow the regimental broom as
a large prisoner, it could at least have the consolation of going down
with bristles forward.
But the blows of the antagonist began to grow more weak. Fewer bullets
ripped the air, and finally, when the men slackened to learn of the
fight, they could see only dark, floating smoke. The regiment lay
still and gazed. Presently some chance whim came to the pestering
blur, and it began to coil heavily away. The men saw a ground vacant
of fighters. It would have been an empty stage if it were not for a
few corpses that lay thrown and twisted into fantastic shapes upon the
At sight of this tableau, many of the men in blue sprang from behind
their covers and made an ungainly dance of joy. Their eyes burned and
a hoarse cheer of elation broke from their dry lips.
It had begun to seem to them that events were trying to prove that they
were impotent. These little battles had evidently endeavored to
demonstrate that the men could not fight well. When on the verge of
submission to these opinions, the small duel had showed them that the
proportions were not impossible, and by it they had revenged themselves
upon their misgivings and upon the foe.
The impetus of enthusiasm was theirs again. They gazed about them with
looks of uplifted pride, feeling new trust in the grim, always
confident weapons in their hands. And they were men.
Presently they knew that no firing threatened them. All ways seemed
once more opened to them. The dusty blue lines of their friends were
disclosed a short distance away. In the distance there were many
colossal noises, but in all this part of the field there was a sudden
They perceived that they were free. The depleted band drew a long
breath of relief and gathered itself into a bunch to complete its trip.
In this last length of journey the men began to show strange emotions.
They hurried with nervous fear. Some who had been dark and unfaltering
in the grimmest moments now could not conceal an anxiety that made them
frantic. It was perhaps that they dreaded to be killed in
insignificant ways after the times for proper military deaths had
passed. Or, perhaps, they thought it would be too ironical to get
killed at the portals of safety. With backward looks of perturbation,
As they approached their own lines there was some sarcasm exhibited on
the part of a gaunt and bronzed regiment that lay resting in the shade
of the trees. Questions were wafted to them.
"Where th' hell yeh been?"
"What yeh comin' back fer?"
"Why didn't yeh stay there?"
"Was it warm out there, sonny?"
"Goin' home now, boys?"
One shouted in taunting mimicry: "Oh, mother, come quick an' look at
There was no reply from the bruised and battered regiment, save that
one man made broadcast challenges to fist fights and the red-bearded
officer walked rather near and glared in great swashbuckler style at a
tall captain in the other regiment. But the lieutenant suppressed the
man who wished to fist fight, and the tall captain, flushing at the
little fanfare of the red-bearded one, was obliged to look intently at
The youth's tender flesh was deeply stung by these remarks. From under
his creased brows he glowered with hate at the mockers. He meditated
upon a few revenges. Still, many in the regiment hung their heads in
criminal fashion, so that it came to pass that the men trudged with
sudden heaviness, as if they bore upon their bended shoulders the
coffin of their honor. And the youthful lieutenant, recollecting
himself, began to mutter softly in black curses.
They turned when they arrived at their old position to regard the
ground over which they had charged.
The youth in this contemplation was smitten with a large astonishment.
He discovered that the distances, as compared with the brilliant
measurings of his mind, were trivial and ridiculous. The stolid trees,
where much had taken place, seemed incredibly near. The time, too, now
that he reflected, he saw to have been short. He wondered at the
number of emotions and events that had been crowded into such little
spaces. Elfin thoughts must have exaggerated and enlarged everything,
It seemed, then, that there was bitter justice in the speeches of the
gaunt and bronzed veterans. He veiled a glance of disdain at his
fellows who strewed the ground, choking with dust, red from
perspiration, misty-eyed, disheveled.
They were gulping at their canteens, fierce to wring every mite of
water from them, and they polished at their swollen and watery features
with coat sleeves and bunches of grass.
However, to the youth there was a considerable joy in musing upon his
performances during the charge. He had had very little time previously
in which to appreciate himself, so that there was now much satisfaction
in quietly thinking of his actions. He recalled bits of color that in
the flurry had stamped themselves unawares upon his engaged senses.
As the regiment lay heaving from its hot exertions the officer who had
named them as mule drivers came galloping along the line. He had lost
his cap. His tousled hair streamed wildly, and his face was dark with
vexation and wrath. His temper was displayed with more clearness by
the way in which he managed his horse. He jerked and wrenched savagely
at his bridle, stopping the hard-breathing animal with a furious pull
near the colonel of the regiment. He immediately exploded in
reproaches which came unbidden to the ears of the men. They were
suddenly alert, being always curious about black words between officers.
"Oh, thunder, MacChesnay, what an awful bull you made of this thing!"
began the officer. He attempted low tones, but his indignation caused
certain of the men to learn the sense of his words. "What an awful
mess you made! Good Lord, man, you stopped about a hundred feet this
side of a very pretty success! If your men had gone a hundred feet
farther you would have made a great charge, but as it is--what a lot of
mud diggers you've got anyway!"
The men, listening with bated breath, now turned their curious eyes
upon the colonel. They had a ragamuffin interest in this affair.
The colonel was seen to straighten his form and put one hand forth in
oratorical fashion. He wore an injured air; it was as if a deacon had
been accused of stealing. The men were wiggling in an ecstasy of
But of a sudden the colonel's manner changed from that of a deacon to
that of a Frenchman. He shrugged his shoulders. "Oh, well, general,
we went as far as we could," he said calmly.
"As far as you could? Did you, b'Gawd?" snorted the other. "Well,
that wasn't very far, was it?" he added, with a glance of cold contempt
into the other's eyes. "Not very far, I think. You were intended to
make a diversion in favor of Whiterside. How well you succeeded your
own ears can now tell you." He wheeled his horse and rode stiffly away.
The colonel, bidden to hear the jarring noises of an engagement in the
woods to the left, broke out in vague damnations.
The lieutenant, who had listened with an air of impotent rage to the
interview, spoke suddenly in firm and undaunted tones. "I don't care
what a man is--whether he is a general or what--if he says th' boys
didn't put up a good fight out there he's a damned fool."
"Lieutenant," began the colonel, severely, "this is my own affair, and
I'll trouble you--"
The lieutenant made an obedient gesture. "All right, colonel, all
right," he said. He sat down with an air of being content with himself.
The news that the regiment had been reproached went along the line.
For a time the men were bewildered by it. "Good thunder!" they
ejaculated, staring at the vanishing form of the general. They
conceived it to be a huge mistake.
Presently, however, they began to believe that in truth their efforts
had been called light. The youth could see this conviction weigh upon
the entire regiment until the men were like cuffed and cursed animals,
but withal rebellious.
The friend, with a grievance in his eye, went to the youth. "I wonder
what he does want," he said. "He must think we went out there an'
played marbles! I never see sech a man!"
The youth developed a tranquil philosophy for these moments of
irritation. "Oh, well," he rejoined, "he probably didn't see nothing
of it at all and god mad as blazes, and concluded we were a lot of
sheep, just because we didn't do what he wanted done. It's a pity old
Grandpa Henderson got killed yestirday--he'd have known that we did our
best and fought good. It's just our awful luck, that's what."
"I should say so," replied the friend. He seemed to be deeply wounded
at an injustice. "I should say we did have awful luck! There's no fun
in fightin' fer people when everything yeh do--no matter what--ain't
done right. I have a notion t' stay behind next time an' let 'em take
their ol' charge an' go t' th' devil with it."
The youth spoke soothingly to his comrade. "Well, we both did good.
I'd like to see the fool what'd say we both didn't do as good as we
"Of course we did," declared the friend stoutly. "An' I'd break th'
feller's neck if he was as big as a church. But we're all right,
anyhow, for I heard one feller say that we two fit th' best in th'
reg'ment, an' they had a great argument 'bout it. Another feller, 'a
course, he had t' up an' say it was a lie--he seen all what was goin'
on an' he never seen us from th' beginnin' t' th' end. An' a lot more
stuck in an' ses it wasn't a lie--we did fight like thunder, an' they
give us quite a sendoff. But this is what I can't stand--these
everlastin' ol' soldiers, titterin' an' laughin', an then that general,
The youth exclaimed with sudden exasperation: "He's a lunkhead! He
makes me mad. I wish he'd come along next time. We'd show 'im what--"
He ceased because several men had come hurrying up. Their faces
expressed a bringing of great news.
"O Flem, yeh jest oughta heard!" cried one, eagerly.
"Heard what?" said the youth.
"Yeh jest oughta heard!" repeated the other, and he arranged himself to
tell his tidings. The others made an excited circle. "Well, sir, th'
colonel met your lieutenant right by us--it was damnedest thing I ever
heard--an' he ses: 'Ahem! ahem!' he ses. 'Mr. Hasbrouck!' he ses,
'by th' way, who was that lad what carried th' flag?' he ses. There,
Flemin', what d' yeh think 'a that? 'Who was th' lad what carried th'
flag?' he ses, an' th' lieutenant, he speaks up right away: 'That's
Flemin', an' he's a jimhickey,' he ses, right away. What? I say he
did. 'A jimhickey,' he ses--those 'r his words. He did, too. I say
he did. If you kin tell this story better than I kin, go ahead an'
tell it. Well, then, keep yer mouth shet. Th' lieutenant, he ses:
'He's a jimhickey,' and th' colonel, he ses: 'Ahem! ahem! he is,
indeed, a very good man t' have, ahem! He kep' th' flag 'way t' th'
front. I saw 'im. He's a good un,' ses th' colonel. 'You bet,' ses
th' lieutenant, 'he an' a feller named Wilson was at th' head 'a th'
charge, an' howlin' like Indians all th' time,' he ses. 'Head 'a th'
charge all th' time,' he ses. 'A feller named Wilson,' he ses. There,
Wilson, m'boy, put that in a letter an' send it hum t' yer mother, hay?
'A feller named Wilson,' he ses. An' th' colonel, he ses: 'Were they,
indeed? Ahem! ahem! My sakes!' he ses. 'At th' head 'a th'
reg'ment?' he ses. 'They were,' ses th' lieutenant. 'My sakes!' ses
th' colonel. He ses: 'Well, well, well,' he ses. 'They deserve t' be
The youth and his friend had said: "Huh!" "Yer lyin' Thompson." "Oh,
go t' blazes!" "He never sed it." "Oh, what a lie!" "Huh!" But
despite these youthful scoffings and embarrassments, they knew that
their faces were deeply flushing from thrills of pleasure. They
exchanged a secret glance of joy and congratulation.
They speedily forgot many things. The past held no pictures of error
and disappointment. They were very happy, and their hearts swelled
with grateful affection for the colonel and the youthful lieutenant.
When the woods again began to pour forth the dark-hued masses of the
enemy the youth felt serene self-confidence. He smiled briefly when he
saw men dodge and duck at the long screechings of shells that were
thrown in giant handfuls over them. He stood, erect and tranquil,
watching the attack begin against apart of the line that made a blue
curve along the side of an adjacent hill. His vision being unmolested
by smoke from the rifles of his companions, he had opportunities to see
parts of the hard fight. It was a relief to perceive at last from
whence came some of these noises which had been roared into his ears.
Off a short way he saw two regiments fighting a little separate battle
with two other regiments. It was in a cleared space, wearing a
set-apart look. They were blazing as if upon a wager, giving and
taking tremendous blows. The firings were incredibly fierce and rapid.
These intent regiments apparently were oblivious of all larger purposes
of war, and were slugging each other as if at a matched game.
In another direction he saw a magnificent brigade going with the
evident intention of driving the enemy from a wood. They passed in out
of sight and presently there was a most awe-inspiring racket in the
wood. The noise was unspeakable. Having stirred this prodigious
uproar, and, apparently, finding it too prodigious, the brigade, after
a little time, came marching airily out again with its fine formation
in nowise disturbed. There were no traces of speed in its movements.
The brigade was jaunty and seemed to point a proud thumb at the yelling
On a slope to the left there was a long row of guns, gruff and
maddened, denouncing the enemy, who, down through the woods, were
forming for another attack in the pitiless monotony of conflicts. The
round red discharges from the guns made a crimson flare and a high,
thick smoke. Occasional glimpses could be caught of groups of the
toiling artillerymen. In the rear of this row of guns stood a house,
calm and white, amid bursting shells. A congregation of horses, tied
to a long railing, were tugging frenziedly at their bridles. Men were
running hither and thither.
The detached battle between the four regiments lasted for some time.
There chanced to be no interference, and they settled their dispute by
themselves. They struck savagely and powerfully at each other for a
period of minutes, and then the lighter-hued regiments faltered and
drew back, leaving the dark-blue lines shouting. The youth could see
the two flags shaking with laughter amid the smoke remnants.
Presently there was a stillness, pregnant with meaning. The blue lines
shifted and changed a trifle and stared expectantly at the silent woods
and fields before them. The hush was solemn and churchlike, save for a
distant battery that, evidently unable to remain quiet, sent a faint
rolling thunder over the ground. It irritated, like the noises of
unimpressed boys. The men imagined that it would prevent their perched
ears from hearing the first words of the new battle.
Of a sudden the guns on the slope roared out a message of warning. A
spluttering sound had begun in the woods. It swelled with amazing
speed to a profound clamor that involved the earth in noises. The
splitting crashes swept along the lines until an interminable roar was
developed. To those in the midst of it it became a din fitted to the
universe. It was the whirring and thumping of gigantic machinery,
complications among the smaller stars. The youth's ears were filled
cups. They were incapable of hearing more.
On an incline over which a road wound he saw wild and desperate rushes
of men perpetually backward and forward in riotous surges. These parts
of the opposing armies were two long waves that pitched upon each other
madly at dictated points. To and fro they swelled. Sometimes, one
side by its yells and cheers would proclaim decisive blows, but a
moment later the other side would be all yells and cheers. Once the
youth saw a spray of light forms go in houndlike leaps toward the
waving blue lines. There was much howling, and presently it went away
with a vast mouthful of prisoners. Again, he saw a blue wave dash with
such thunderous force against a gray obstruction that it seemed to
clear the earth of it and leave nothing but trampled sod. And always
in their swift and deadly rushes to and fro the men screamed and yelled
Particular pieces of fence or secure positions behind collections of
trees were wrangled over, as gold thrones or pearl bedsteads. There
were desperate lunges at these chosen spots seemingly every instant,
and most of them were bandied like light toys between the contending
forces. The youth could not tell from the battle flags flying like
crimson foam in many directions which color of cloth was winning.
His emaciated regiment bustled forth with undiminished fierceness when
its time came. When assaulted again by bullets, the men burst out in a
barbaric cry of rage and pain. They bent their heads in aims of intent
hatred behind the projected hammers of their guns. Their ramrods
clanged loud with fury as their eager arms pounded the cartridges into
the rifle barrels. The front of the regiment was a smoke-wall
penetrated by the flashing points of yellow and red.
Wallowing in the fight, they were in an astonishingly short time
resmudged. They surpassed in stain and dirt all their previous
appearances. Moving to and fro with strained exertion, jabbering all
the while, they were, with their swaying bodies, black faces, and
glowing eyes, like strange and ugly fiends jigging heavily in the smoke.
The lieutenant, returning from a tour after a bandage, produced from a
hidden receptacle of his mind new and portentous oaths suited to the
emergency. Strings of expletives he swung lashlike over the backs of
his men, and it was evident that his previous efforts had in nowise
impaired his resources.
The youth, still the bearer of the colors, did not feel his idleness.
He was deeply absorbed as a spectator. The crash and swing of the
great drama made him lean forward, intent-eyed, his face working in
small contortions. Sometimes he prattled, words coming unconsciously
from him in grotesque exclamations. He did not know that he breathed;
that the flag hung silently over him, so absorbed was he.
A formidable line of the enemy came within dangerous range. They could
be seen plainly--tall, gaunt men with excited faces running with long
strides toward a wandering fence.
At sight of this danger the men suddenly ceased their cursing monotone.
There was an instant of strained silence before they threw up their
rifles and fired a plumping volley at the foes. There had been no
order given; the men, upon recognizing the menace, had immediately let
drive their flock of bullets without waiting for word of command.
But the enemy were quick to gain the protection of the wandering line
of fence. They slid down behind it with remarkable celerity, and from
this position they began briskly to slice up the blue men.
These latter braced their energies for a great struggle. Often, white
clinched teeth shone from the dusky faces. Many heads surged to and
fro, floating upon a pale sea of smoke. Those behind the fence
frequently shouted and yelped in taunts and gibelike cries, but the
regiment maintained a stressed silence. Perhaps, at this new assault
the men recalled the fact that they had been named mud diggers, and it
made their situation thrice bitter. They were breathlessly intent upon
keeping the ground and thrusting away the rejoicing body of the enemy.
They fought swiftly and with a despairing savageness denoted in their
The youth had resolved not to budge whatever should happen. Some
arrows of scorn that had buried themselves in his heart had generated
strange and unspeakable hatred. It was clear to him that his final and
absolute revenge was to be achieved by his dead body lying, torn and
gluttering, upon the field. This was to be a poignant retaliation upon
the officer who had said "mule drivers," and later "mud diggers," for
in all the wild graspings of his mind for a unit responsible for his
sufferings and commotions he always seized upon the man who had dubbed
him wrongly. And it was his idea, vaguely formulated, that his corpse
would be for those eyes a great and salt reproach.
The regiment bled extravagantly. Grunting bundles of blue began to
drop. The orderly sergeant of the youth's company was shot through the
cheeks. Its supports being injured, his jaw hung afar down, disclosing
in the wide cavern of his mouth a pulsing mass of blood and teeth. And
with it all he made attempts to cry out. In his endeavor there was a
dreadful earnestness, as if he conceived that one great shriek would
make him well.
The youth saw him presently go rearward. His strength seemed in nowise
impaired. He ran swiftly, casting wild glances for succor.
Others fell down about the feet of their companions. Some of the
wounded crawled out and away, but many lay still, their bodies twisted
into impossible shapes.
The youth looked once for his friend. He saw a vehement young man,
powder-smeared and frowzled, whom he knew to be him. The lieutenant,
also, was unscathed in his position at the rear. He had continued to
curse, but it was now with the air of a man who was using his last box
For the fire of the regiment had begun to wane and drip. The robust
voice, that had come strangely from the thin ranks, was growing rapidly
The colonel came running along the back of the line. There were other
officers following him. "We must charge'm!" they shouted. "We must
charge'm!" they cried with resentful voices, as if anticipating a
rebellion against this plan by the men.
The youth, upon hearing the shouts, began to study the distance between
him and the enemy. He made vague calculations. He saw that to be firm
soldiers they must go forward. It would be death to stay in the
present place, and with all the circumstances to go backward would
exalt too many others. Their hope was to push the galling foes away
from the fence.
He expected that his companions, weary and stiffened, would have to be
driven to this assault, but as he turned toward them he perceived with
a certain surprise that they were giving quick and unqualified
expressions of assent. There was an ominous, clanging overture to the
charge when the shafts of the bayonets rattled upon the rifle barrels.
At the yelled words of command the soldiers sprang forward in eager
leaps. There was new and unexpected force in the movement of the
regiment. A knowledge of its faded and jaded condition made the charge
appear like a paroxysm, a display of the strength that comes before a
final feebleness. The men scampered in insane fever of haste, racing
as if to achieve a sudden success before an exhilarating fluid should
leave them. It was a blind and despairing rush by the collection of
men in dusty and tattered blue, over a green sward and under a sapphire
sky, toward a fence, dimly outlined in smoke, from behind which
sputtered the fierce rifles of enemies.
The youth kept the bright colors to the front. He was waving his free
arm in furious circles, the while shrieking mad calls and appeals,
urging on those that did not need to be urged, for it seemed that the
mob of blue men hurling themselves on the dangerous group of rifles
were again grown suddenly wild with an enthusiasm of unselfishness.
From the many firings starting toward them, it looked as if they would
merely succeed in making a great sprinkling of corpses on the grass
between their former position and the fence. But they were in a state
of frenzy, perhaps because of forgotten vanities, and it made an
exhibition of sublime recklessness. There was no obvious questioning,
nor figurings, nor diagrams. There was, apparently, no considered
loopholes. It appeared that the swift wings of their desires would
have shattered against the iron gates of the impossible.
He himself felt the daring spirit of a savage, religion-mad. He was
capable of profound sacrifices, a tremendous death. He had no time for
dissections, but he knew that he thought of the bullets only as things
that could prevent him from reaching the place of his endeavor. There
were subtle flashings of joy within him that thus should be his mind.
He strained all his strength. His eyesight was shaken and dazzled by
the tension of thought and muscle. He did not see anything excepting
the mist of smoke gashed by the little knives of fire, but he knew that
in it lay the aged fence of a vanished farmer protecting the snuggled
bodies of the gray men.
As he ran a thought of the shock of contact gleamed in his mind. He
expected a great concussion when the two bodies of troops crashed
together. This became a part of his wild battle madness. He could
feel the onward swing of the regiment about him and he conceived of a
thunderous, crushing blow that would prostrate the resistance and
spread consternation and amazement for miles. The flying regiment was
going to have a catapultian effect. This dream made him run faster
among his comrades, who were giving vent to hoarse and frantic cheers.
But presently he could see that many of the men in gray did not intend
to abide the blow. The smoke, rolling, disclosed men who ran, their
faces still turned. These grew to a crowd, who retired stubbornly.
Individuals wheeled frequently to send a bullet at the blue wave.
But at one part of the line there was a grim and obdurate group that
made no movement. They were settled firmly down behind posts and
rails. A flag, ruffled and fierce, waved over them and their rifles
The blue whirl of men got very near, until it seemed that in truth
there would be a close and frightful scuffle. There was an expressed
disdain in the opposition of the little group, that changed the meaning
of the cheers of the men in blue. They became yells of wrath,
directed, personal. The cries of the two parties were now in sound an
interchange of scathing insults.
They in blue showed their teeth; their eyes shone all white. They
launched themselves as at the throats of those who stood resisting.
The space between dwindled to an insignificant distance.
The youth had centered the gaze of his soul upon that other flag. Its
possession would be high pride. It would express bloody minglings,
near blows. He had a gigantic hatred for those who made great
difficulties and complications. They caused it to be as a craved
treasure of mythology, hung amid tasks and contrivances of danger.
He plunged like a mad horse at it. He was resolved it should not
escape if wild blows and darings of blows could seize it. His own
emblem, quivering and aflare, was winging toward the other. It seemed
there would shortly be an encounter of strange beaks and claws, as of
The swirling body of blue men came to a sudden halt at close and
disastrous range and roared a swift volley. The group in gray was
split and broken by this fire, but its riddled body still fought. The
men in blue yelled again and rushed in upon it.
The youth, in his leapings, saw, as through a mist, a picture of four
or five men stretched upon the ground or writhing upon their knees with
bowed heads as if they had been stricken by bolts from the sky.
Tottering among them was the rival color bearer, whom the youth saw had
been bitten vitally by the bullets of the last formidable volley. He
perceived this man fighting a last struggle, the struggle of one whose
legs are grasped by demons. It was a ghastly battle. Over his face
was the bleach of death, but set upon it was the dark and hard lines of
desperate purpose. With this terrible grin of resolution he hugged his
precious flag to him and was stumbling and staggering in his design to
go the way that led to safety for it.
But his wounds always made it seem that his feet were retarded, held,
and he fought a grim fight, as with invisible ghouls fastened greedily
upon his limbs. Those in advance of the scampering blue men, howling
cheers, leaped at the fence. The despair of the lost was in his eyes
as he glanced back at them.
The youth's friend went over the obstruction in a tumbling heap and
sprang at the flag as a panther at prey. He pulled at it and,
wrenching it free, swung up its red brilliancy with a mad cry of
exultation even as the color bearer, gasping, lurched over in a final
throe and, stiffening convulsively, turned his dead face to the ground.
There was much blood upon the grass blades.
At the place of success there began more wild clamorings of cheers.
The men gesticulated and bellowed in an ecstasy. When they spoke it
was as if they considered their listener to be a mile away. What hats
and caps were left to them they often slung high in the air.
At one part of the line four men had been swooped upon, and they now
sat as prisoners. Some blue men were about them in an eager and
curious circle. The soldiers had trapped strange birds, and there was
an examination. A flurry of fast questions was in the air.
One of the prisoners was nursing a superficial wound in the foot. He
cuddled it, baby-wise, but he looked up from it often to curse with an
astonishing utter abandon straight at the noses of his captors. He
consigned them to red regions; he called upon the pestilential wrath of
strange gods. And with it all he was singularly free from recognition
of the finer points of the conduct of prisoners of war. It was as if a
clumsy clod had trod upon his toe and he conceived it to be his
privilege, his duty, to use deep, resentful oaths.
Another, who was a boy in years, took his plight with great calmness
and apparent good nature. He conversed with the men in blue, studying
their faces with his bright and keen eyes. They spoke of battles and
conditions. There was an acute interest in all their faces during this
exchange of view points. It seemed a great satisfaction to hear voices
from where all had been darkness and speculation.
The third captive sat with a morose countenance. He preserved a
stoical and cold attitude. To all advances he made one reply without
variation, "Ah, go t' hell!"
The last of the four was always silent and, for the most part, kept his
face turned in unmolested directions. From the views the youth
received he seemed to be in a state of absolute dejection. Shame was
upon him, and with it profound regret that he was, perhaps, no more to
be counted in the ranks of his fellows. The youth could detect no
expression that would allow him to believe that the other was giving a
thought to his narrowed future, the pictured dungeons, perhaps, and
starvations and brutalities, liable to the imagination. All to be seen
was shame for captivity and regret for the right to antagonize.
After the men had celebrated sufficiently they settled down behind the
old rail fence, on the opposite side to the one from which their foes
had been driven. A few shot perfunctorily at distant marks.
There was some long grass. The youth nestled in it and rested, making
a convenient rail support the flag. His friend, jubilant and
glorified, holding his treasure with vanity, came to him there. They
sat side by side and congratulated each other.
The roarings that had stretched in a long line of sound across the face
of the forest began to grow intermittent and weaker. The stentorian
speeches of the artillery continued in some distant encounter, but the
crashes of the musketry had almost ceased. The youth and his friend of
a sudden looked up, feeling a deadened form of distress at the waning
of these noises, which had become a part of life. They could see
changes going on among the troops. There were marchings this way and
that way. A battery wheeled leisurely. On the crest of a small hill
was the thick gleam of many departing muskets.
The youth arose. "Well, what now, I wonder?" he said. By his tone he
seemed to be preparing to resent some new monstrosity in the way of
dins and smashes. He shaded his eyes with his grimy hand and gazed
over the field.
His friend also arose and stared. "I bet we're goin' t' git along out
of this an' back over th' river," said he.
"Well, I swan!" said the youth.
They waited, watching. Within a little while the regiment received
orders to retrace its way. The men got up grunting from the grass,
regretting the soft repose. They jerked their stiffened legs, and
stretched their arms over their heads. One man swore as he rubbed his
eyes. They all groaned "O Lord!" They had as many objections to this
change as they would have had to a proposal for a new battle.
They trampled slowly back over the field across which they had run in a
The regiment marched until it had joined its fellows. The reformed
brigade, in column, aimed through a wood at the road. Directly they
were in a mass of dust-covered troops, and were trudging along in a way
parallel to the enemy's lines as these had been defined by the previous
They passed within view of a stolid white house, and saw in front of it
groups of their comrades lying in wait behind a neat breastwork. A row
of guns were booming at a distant enemy. Shells thrown in reply were
raising clouds of dust and splinters. Horsemen dashed along the line
At this point of its march the division curved away from the field and
went winding off in the direction of the river. When the significance
of this movement had impressed itself upon the youth he turned his head
and looked over his shoulder toward the trampled and debris-strewed
ground. He breathed a breath of new satisfaction. He finally nudged
his friend. "Well, it's all over," he said to him.
His friend gazed backward. "B'Gawd, it is," he assented. They mused.
For a time the youth was obliged to reflect in a puzzled and uncertain
way. His mind was undergoing a subtle change. It took moments for it
to cast off its battleful ways and resume its accustomed course of
thought. Gradually his brain emerged from the clogged clouds, and at
last he was enabled to more closely comprehend himself and circumstance.
He understood then that the existence of shot and countershot was in
the past. He had dwelt in a land of strange, squalling upheavals and
had come forth. He had been where there was red of blood and black of
passion, and he was escaped. His first thoughts were given to
rejoicings at this fact.
Later he began to study his deeds, his failures, and his achievements.
Thus, fresh from scenes where many of his usual machines of reflection
had been idle, from where he had proceeded sheeplike, he struggled to
marshal all his acts.
At last they marched before him clearly. From this present view point
he was enabled to look upon them in spectator fashion and criticise
them with some correctness, for his new condition had already defeated
Regarding his procession of memory he felt gleeful and unregretting,
for in it his public deeds were paraded in great and shining
prominence. Those performances which had been witnessed by his fellows
marched now in wide purple and gold, having various deflections. They
went gayly with music. It was pleasure to watch these things. He
spent delightful minutes viewing the gilded images of memory.
He saw that he was good. He recalled with a thrill of joy the
respectful comments of his fellows upon his conduct.
Nevertheless, the ghost of his flight from the first engagement
appeared to him and danced. There were small shoutings in his brain
about these matters. For a moment he blushed, and the light of his
soul flickered with shame.
A specter of reproach came to him. There loomed the dogging memory of
the tattered soldier--he who, gored by bullets and faint of blood, had
fretted concerning an imagined wound in another; he who had loaned his
last of strength and intellect for the tall soldier; he who, blind with
weariness and pain, had been deserted in the field.
For an instant a wretched chill of sweat was upon him at the thought
that he might be detected in the thing. As he stood persistently
before his vision, he gave vent to a cry of sharp irritation and agony.
His friend turned. "What's the matter, Henry?" he demanded. The
youth's reply was an outburst of crimson oaths.
As he marched along the little branch-hung roadway among his prattling
companions this vision of cruelty brooded over him. It clung near him
always and darkened his view of these deeds in purple and gold.
Whichever way his thoughts turned they were followed by the somber
phantom of the desertion in the fields. He looked stealthily at his
companions, feeling sure that they must discern in his face evidences
of this pursuit. But they were plodding in ragged array, discussing
with quick tongues the accomplishments of the late battle.
"Oh, if a man should come up an' ask me, I'd say we got a dum good
"Lickin'--in yer eye! We ain't licked, sonny. We're goin' down here
aways, swing aroun', an' come in behint 'em."
"Oh, hush, with your comin' in behint 'em. I've seen all 'a that I
wanta. Don't tell me about comin' in behint--"
"Bill Smithers, he ses he'd rather been in ten hundred battles than
been in that heluva hospital. He ses they got shootin' in th'
nighttime, an' shells dropped plum among 'em in th' hospital. He ses
sech hollerin' he never see."
"Hasbrouck? He's th' best off'cer in this here reg'ment. He's a
"Didn't I tell yeh we'd come aroun' in behint 'em? Didn't I tell yeh
"Oh, shet yeh mouth!"
For a time this pursuing recollection of the tattered man took all
elation from the youth's veins. He saw his vivid error, and he was
afraid that it would stand before him all his life. He took no share
in the chatter of his comrades, nor did he look at them or know them,
save when he felt sudden suspicion that they were seeing his thoughts
and scrutinizing each detail of the scene with the tattered soldier.
Yet gradually he mustered force to put the sin at a distance. And at
last his eyes seemed to open to some new ways. He found that he could
look back upon the brass and bombast of his earlier gospels and see
them truly. He was gleeful when he discovered that he now despised
With this conviction came a store of assurance. He felt a quiet
manhood, nonassertive but of sturdy and strong blood. He knew that he
would no more quail before his guides wherever they should point. He
had been to touch the great death, and found that, after all, it was
but the great death. He was a man.
So it came to pass that as he trudged from the place of blood and wrath
his soul changed. He came from hot plowshares to prospects of clover
tranquilly, and it was as if hot plowshares were not. Scars faded as
It rained. The procession of weary soldiers became a bedraggled train,
despondent and muttering, marching with churning effort in a trough of
liquid brown mud under a low, wretched sky. Yet the youth smiled, for
he saw that the world was a world for him, though many discovered it to
be made of oaths and walking sticks. He had rid himself of the red
sickness of battle. The sultry nightmare was in the past. He had been
an animal blistered and sweating in the heat and pain of war. He
turned now with a lover's thirst to images of tranquil skies, fresh
meadows, cool brooks--an existence of soft and eternal peace.
Over the river a golden ray of sun came through the hosts of leaden